Especially during wartime, presidents are not expected to personally call the surviving family members of every fallen service member. More than 4,000 American servicemembers have died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the firestorm around Trump’s claims about his contacts with military families set off an effort within his administration to shore up the president’s claims.
On Tuesday, Trump called the families of four men who died in Niger on October 4, after promising to do so in the Monday press briefing. Then, along with the rush-delivered letters to the families of Eckels, Hoagland, Ingram, and Stigler, Trump also mailed a $25,000 check on Wednesday to a grieving father to whom he had promised money in a June phone call, the father told The Washington Post.
The money, the rush-delivered letters, and the recent phone calls all represent a sharp change for an administration whose outreach to bereaved military families had appeared to slow since June.
Two families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan on August 2, Christopher Harris and Jonathon Hunter, were told they should expect a call and never received one. The family of Sergeant Roshain Euvince Brooks, who died in Iraq in August, did not receive a call.
Several other families have talked to other news outlets about their experiences. Jasmin William Bays, the wife of Sergeant William Bays, received a call from Trump, and wrote on Facebook that “the President’s words to me were kind, genuine and sincere. His words helped me heal during my time of grief.” Other recent presidents have not personally called all military families who have lost relatives, but both presidents Obama and Bush occasionally made such calls.
This all comes after a turbulent week, set off by Trump’s claim to have been more involved than previous presidents in contacting military families. The president even involved his chief of staff, John Kelly, himself a retired Marine general who lost a son in the war in Afghanistan, in a feud with Florida Representative Frederica Wilson, who said that the president’s outreach to a slain U.S. servicemember’s family had been gone poorly.
Wilson said a call made to one of families of the four men slain in Niger in early October, Sergeant La David Johnson, ended with the family feeling disrespected. Wilson, a friend of the Johnson family, was present when the call was made. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, confirmed Wilson’s account, telling The Washington Post that the president had shown “disrespect” for her son and family with statements that her son “must have known what he signed up for.” Many questions remain about how Johnson became separated from the other members of his team.
Some families expressed that they were “disappointed” they had not received a call or letter from Trump, but still others questioned the relevance of the president’s actions in the larger scheme of things.
“If that letter or that phone call could bring my son back, I would run from here on foot to Washington, D.C., to get that letter,” Sheila Murphy, the mother of Army Specialist Etienne Murphy, who was killed in Syria in May, told MSNBC. “But right now it really doesn’t matter who did the greatest thing.”