The tradition of presidents reaching out to the families of U.S. servicemembers killed in action has been at the heart of an ongoing controversy surrounding President Donald Trump‘s recent call to the grieving widow of slain Army Sgt. La David Johnson, and Trump’s false claim that his predecessors did not make such calls.
In fact, the custom is long-established and many past presidents have reached out to Gold Star families to offer condolences through letters, private meetings and invitations.
That includes former President John F. Kennedy, who wrote one such letter to the grieving widow of Rudolf Anderson Jr., a pilot and commissioned officer in the United States Air Force who was the only person killed by enemy fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
According to History.com, when Kennedy learned that the 35-year-old Anderson had a wife and two sons, 5 and 3 years old, it hit home for the president, whose own children, Caroline and John Jr., were then just shy of 5 and 2 years old, respectively.
“He had a boy about the same age as John,” Kennedy told his advisers. The fallen pilot’s widow was also two months pregnant the couple’s third child, a baby girl, at the time.
Fifty-five years ago this month, Kennedy sent a letter of condolence to Anderson’s widow, including a handwritten note at the bottom that read: “Your husband’s mission was of the greatest importance, but I know how deeply you must feel his loss.”
Kennedy also wrote in the typed portion of the letter, “I was deeply shocked by the loss of your husband on an operational flight on Saturday, October 27th, 1962.”
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“His tragic loss on a mission of most vital national urgency was once again the sacrifice of a brave and patriotic man,” he added.
Anderson, who died when his aircraft was shot down over Cuba, later became the first recipient of the Air Force Cross, the U.S. Air Force’s second-highest award for heroism, after the Medal of Honor.