President Trump has claimed that he alone — not Barack Obama or other past presidents — has called “virtually” all families of U.S. soldiers who have died in service since Trump took office in January.
But Gold Star families have since lashed out at Trump over his false claims about past presidents, recalling how they were comforted by Obama and former President George W. Bush as they grieved. Trump was soon forced to walk back what Obama aides called an “outrageous lie,” admitting that his predecessor “probably [called] sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know.”
But now some family members of the fallen are coming forward to dispute the other part of Trump’s claim — saying they never received calls of condolence from the sitting president.
Whitney Hunter, whose husband was killed in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan nearly three months ago, tells The Fayetteville Observer that she was promised a phone call from Trump that never came.
In the months that followed, Whitney received letters from senators, governors and members of Congress — but not Trump.
She says that while a letter wouldn’t necessarily mean “a great deal,” she felt the president should have in some way acknowledged the ultimate sacrifice made by her husband, Sgt. Jonathon Hunter.
“It felt … like the importance wasn’t as dire, like he wasn’t acknowledged,” she told the newspaper of her husband. Trump “is the president. It just kind of bothered me a little bit.”
Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, who was gunned down by an Afghan police officer along with two other soldiers in June, told the Washington Post he did receive a call from President Trump after his son’s death, but never received the $25,000 he said Trump offered him.
“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge told the Post. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”
On Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told the Post: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”
The Associated Press also spoke with relatives of two soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received a call or a letter from Trump, as well as relatives of a third soldier who did not get a call from him.
Brittany Harris, the widow of 25-year-old Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, who was killed along with another soldier in a suicide attack in Afghanistan in August, said the White House reached out to set up a call with Trump but “it fell through.” She did not receive a letter from the president after that. The family did see Vice President Mike Pence at Dover Air Force Base, where they went to receive Michael’s remains, and said they found Pence’s words comforting.
Brittany, who is now 17 weeks pregnant, said she’s received an outpouring of support from the Pentagon and other government officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who sent her a handwritten note.
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Sheila Murphy, the mother of 22-year-old Army Spc. Etienne J. Murphy, who was killed in May after an armored vehicle he was in rolled over in Syria, told the AP neither she nor her son’s widow ever received a letter or call from Trump.
“Because it was non-combat, I feel like maybe he thought it was an accident, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “But my son was in Syria.”
Sheila said an army casualty assistance officer told her the White House would send a letter, but it so far has not arrived.
Six weeks ago, she finally wrote a letter to Trump saying she and her husband were still suffering from deep grief. She did not receive a response.
“It wasn’t a mean letter,” she said. “I was telling him I know he’s a grandfather. I told him I’m trying to be here for my grandkids, but some days I don’t want to live.”
Laura Butler, the mother of 27-year-old Aaron Butler, a guardsman who was killed in August at a booby-trapped building in Afghanistan, told the AP Trump has not called her either, though many other officials have.
Laura said her family did not expect the president to call and they appreciate the “intense support” from the White House.
“The family is very careful that they do not want to be pulled into a partisan slugfest,” said the family’s spokesman, Bill Boyle. “He would be very upset if his name or his death or his sacrifice was used as a tool to divide the country, and they’re fearful that this could happen.”
The latest controversy surrounding Trump comes as a result of his initial claims during a press conference on Monday that his predecessor never called the families of U.S. soldiers killed in the line of duty overseas.
Asked whether he would call the families of the four U.S. Army special operations commandos killed in an ambush in Niger earlier this month — whom the president had yet to publicly comment on — Trump said he would and then claimed that Obama had not done so in similar situations.
“The traditional way if you look at President Obama and the other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” Trump said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They made the ultimate sacrifice, so generally I would say that I like to call.”
The soldiers killed in the attack were Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black and Sgt. La David Johnson — whose mother said Wednesday that Trump “disrespected” her son and family during a phone call of condolence.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson confirmed Rep. Frederica Wilson’s earlier account that Trump told the soldier’s widow on the call that “he knew what he signed up for.”