On Honoring Our Fallen

Note: I often go on little rants on Twitter when the mood strikes instead of writing things here. As such, I’ve decided to go back and pull the threads and change them into blog posts, if only so this blog doesn’t sit completely fallow between times when I decide to post things. Plus, it will allow me to finish some thoughts that might not have been complete due to character limits on Twitter. Check out the tag “Twitter Rants” for all the posts like this. They will be posted on the date that I initially did the thread.

In the latest adventures of “Donald Trump is a Horrible President” this week, there was some controversy regarding the contacting of families of some fallen Soldiers that had died nearly two weeks ago during operations in Niger. Not only did he not acknowledge their deaths when they were announced – instead tweeting about the NFL or going golfing – but he also accused past presidents of never calling the families of Service Members that had died. This, as is most of what Trump says these days, was patently false, but it only snowballed from there. When reports surfaced of the phone call he had with one of the new Gold Star widows – basically stating to her in her moment of grief that her husband “knew what he had signed up for,” he reached a new low in his presidency.

I retweeted some threads about why his word usage probably wasn’t the best, but then I decided to write my own thread based on my experiences with dealing with funeral details from when I worked for the Army. The actual Twitter thread is below, but after that, I went back and expanded further on what I wrote now that I’ve had some time to think some more.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>THREAD (of my own): When I worked for the Army, I never had the honor of escorting a hero home, or even meeting them at the airport</p>&mdash; Robert 4 Clinton (@GuruEbby) <a href=”https://twitter.com/GuruEbby/status/920500061808746496?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>October 18, 2017</a></blockquote>

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When I worked for the Army, I personally never had the honor of escorting a hero home, or even meeting them at the airport. I was a junior rank, in the Reserves, and it just wasn’t in the mission of our organization to do so. However, for a brief time during the “surge” – 2005-2008 or so, maybe a little later – the AGRs (full-time Reservists) that I worked with had to be ready for “funeral detail.”

Funeral detail involved a team of two Soldiers available to vets that had died to have a flag folded and presented to the next of kin at the funeral. A vast majority of the funerals we actually supported were for Vietnam or Korean War era vets; we don’t remember doing any for the fallen from the recent wars, and we had a handful of vets from World War II as well.

The AGRs rotated through this duty roster for a week at a time. Funeral detail took priority over most any other mission should they get the call, though there were some weeks that they weren’t actually “deployed” to the funeral; we were just back-ups after all to the folks at the state National Guard HQ that was really the proponent for the endeavor. But it was a duty that was taken seriously nonetheless, and everyone practiced and made sure that they were ready to go should we receive a tasking to support.

Our AGRS – and sometimes our more reliable Reservists if needed – would practice the folding of the flag repeatedly until it was as perfect as it could be. It needed to be crisp; the family was expecting a top-notch performance from our folks. A lot of these families were used removed from their person being in the military. There probably could have been a little leeway given because they probably wouldn’t have known, but we took pride in this mission, and I was always proud when we received feedback from the families after.

Side Note: When we buried my dad, we had a team from the Utah National Guard show up to fold and present the flag to my mom. They were great. My dad was two decades removed from service, but those Guardsmen were ready (They were so ready that they didn’t let me shake their hands ahead of time). They even had a real bugler with them. “Taps” a heartbreaking song generally, but when it’s your family member going in the ground, it’s even more so. When my dad went in the ground, my mom got that flag, and it was rough. Hardest five minutes of my life honestly.

This is why I’m mad at our president. A man who never served, nor has no compassion for anyone that does or even for people (and their families) that have made the ultimate sacrifice. During his presidential campaign, he insulted the service of Senator John McCain, a man who spent years in a Vietnamese prison camp. He insulted a Gold Star father that spoke at the Democratic National Convention. He also claimed that surviving his single years without a sexually-transmitted disease was his Vietnam, a war that he received multiple deferments from because of school and bone spurs in his foot.

He called a young widow today. Called her while she was on her way to meet her husband’s casket at the airport, a husband that she met when they were both six years old. A man that she had two children with, and was carrying a third. And he told that brand new widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” No empathy for another Gold Star Wife from the never-ending War on Terror. Her husband killed in a country that most folks couldn’t find on a map and have no idea we have Soldiers fighting.

So maybe we shouldn’t continue to shame the president into doing these types of duties; he obviously only gives it a passing thought in between rounds of golf and Twitter insults towards his “enemies.” Maybe we shouldn’t have him representing our country in things that require compassion and a heart for people that aren’t named Trump. All I know is that my heart hurts for those four families that had to hear those awkward calls while they are still mourning their losses.

When you raise your right hand and take that oath to defend the Constitution, you aren’t expecting to make the ultimate sacrifice. I don’t think anybody joins the military expecting to die for their country, only knowing that it is possible. There are times where the thought crosses your mind and you train to be prepared for those situations. Even as a support Soldier, we knew to be prepared to engage the enemy but hoped we never had to. People serve in the military for a lot of reasons, and there are hundreds of jobs that don’t involve directly engaging with the enemy.

That said, if Trump wants to be president, he needs to get better at these types of things, especially if he is ramping up for war everywhere. You shouldn’t send people to war if you can’t deal with the ultimate costs, especially if you can’t take two minutes to talk to the generals you surround yourself with to figure out what to say, a skill that comes naturally to people with genuine empathy for others.

Sadly, this is just the latest example of Trump being the wrong person for the job, and it most likely won’t be the last. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that a 71 year-old man is exactly the person he’s been for decades, especially under the added stress of the presidency. But we deserve better, our military too, but especially those Gold Star Families. But he just doesn’t care.

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