WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff John Kelly, in an extraordinary and at times emotional statement on Thursday, explained in detail what happens when a soldier is killed in action.
During the White House press briefing, Kelly said most Americans don’t know what happens when a soldier dies in combat. He offered a gripping description:
“Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud. Puts them on a helicopter and sends them home. Their first stop is when they are packed in ice, typically at the air head and flown to usually Europe. Where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover air force base. Where Dover takes care of the remains. Embalms them. Meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals they earned and puts them on another airplane to take them home.
A very, very good movie is “Taking Chance.” Chance Phelps was killed under my command right next to me. It’s worth seeing that if you’ve never seen it. That’s the process. While that’s happening a casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door, typically the mom and dad will answer, the wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places, if the parents are divorced three different places and the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member. And stays with this family until — well, for a long, long time. That’s what happens.”
Kelly also said he was “stunned” by what a Democratic congresswoman told reporters after she listened in on President Donald Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen soldier.
Kelly said he advised Trump on what to say before he called the families of the four fallen soldiers who died during an ambush in Niger and encouraged Trump to offer similar words that Gen. Joseph Dunford offered to Kelly when his own son was killed in Afghanistan.
“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war,” Kelly said, channeling Dunford’s words to him upon the death of Kelly’s son.
“And when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That’s what the President tried to say to the four families the other day.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson said Tuesday evening that Trump told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
Wilson, who listened in on the call by speakerphone, said Wednesday morning that Trump didn’t know the name of the service member and that his widow “broke down” after her call with the president.
Sgt. La David Johnson was among the four U.S. soldiers killed by enemy fire in the Oct. 4 ambush.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, a family member who raised Johnson, said Wednesday that Wilson’s account of the call between Trump and Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was “very accurate.”
She said she was in the car when the call happened. Trump denied Wilson’s account in a tweet and a statement made at the White House.
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all,” Trump told reporters during a meeting on tax reform in the Cabinet Room. “She knows it. And she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said.”
Trump said he had a “very nice” conversation with Johnson’s widow, “who sounded like a lovely woman.”
Referring to Wilson, he added: “I’d like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said.”
Kelly said it prompted him to leave the White House to go to Arlington National Cemetery and “go walk among the finest men and women on this Earth.”