Military and Police

John Kelly Defends President Trump’s Words of Condolence to Gold Star Widow

“I just thought that the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battle field, I just thought that might be sacred,” Kelly remarked.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly made a strong statement in support of President Trump’s words of condolence to the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

Kelly, a Gold Star father, defended Trump’s remarks. The President’s call to Mrs. Myeshia Johnson was called into question following the public criticism made by Florida Representative Frederica Wilson.

Wilson specifically found fault with the President’s remark that Johnson “knew what he was signing up for” and the fact that Trump referred to him as “your guy” rather than by his name. She was present with Mrs. Johnson when she received the President’s call on October 17.

Kelly shared his own experience receiving the news of his son’s death in 2010. He said that his son “knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war.” He began his remarks by describing in detail the process that fallen service members go through following their death and how families are notified.

When asked by the President what he should say when calling, Kelly responded, “there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.”

While it is not a condolence, knowing that a service member died supporting a cause that they believed in can bring a small measure of comfort to a grieving family member. Kelly shared his perspective with Trump before the call. When asked by the President what he should say when calling, Kelly responded, “there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.”

Kelly outlined the communication and notification process for Gold Star family members, including letters written by the chain of command. He concluded by recognizing the phone calls from the fallen service member’s buddies, as in the case of his son’s death. “Those are the only phone calls that really matter,” he said.

Kelly shared the words that were said to him when his son was killed in action. A friend of General Kelly’s said that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.” It was a comfort to their family as they came to terms with their loss. According to Kelly, that was the intent behind President Trump’s remarks.

As a retired Army General, Kelly has also felt the responsibility that comes with making decisions that put America’s young men and women in harm’s way. After hearing Wilson’s response to the President’s phone call, he walked at Arlington National Cemetery. He “walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.” There is no weightier responsibility than that of a commander who makes decisions which result in loss of life.

“I just thought that the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battle field, I just thought that might be sacred,” Kelly remarked. He called on the media and American public to keep the focus on the brave actions of the fallen, calling them “the finest men and women on this earth.”

He concluded by recognizing the phone calls from the fallen service member’s buddies, as in the case of his son’s death. “Those are the only phone calls that really matter,” he said.

Criticism and outrage have been expressed from both sides following the exchange. Trump supporters have found fault with Representative Wilson, saying that she is using a tragedy for political gain and attention. Support from a Gold Star father such as Kelly strengthens the argument that President Trump responded as best he could to a tragic situation for a young family.

Wilson’s supporters applaud her as a champion of her constituents and find fault with the facts Kelly shared related to Wilson’s role in the naming of an FBI Building in Miami in 2015. Wilson has publicly shared her desire to act on behalf of her constituents and finding out what happened in Johnson’s last moments.

Sgt. Johnson was killed in action in Niger on October 4. His body was recovered on October 6th and transported to Miami International Airport, where it was received by his widow and two children. Sgt. Johnson was assigned to 3 Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Katie Begley

Katie Begley is an OpsLens Contributor, US Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. In addition to being a military spouse, she is a freelance writer specializing in travel, education, and parenting subjects. Katie has worked in numerous communications roles for volunteer organizations and professionally for a local parenting magazine.

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