Colorado Gold Star family shares how Obama White House responded to military son’s death

DENVER -- The heart-wrenching moment of a widow saying goodbye to her husband Sgt. La David T. Johnson gripped the nation. Johnson was killed earlier this month while serving in Niger.

The pain the Johnson family is feeling is one many know well.

“It hurts. It hurts, it brings back a lot of memories,” said Kevin Sonka of Strasburg.

He lost his son David, a Marine corporal serving in Afghanistan, in 2013.

“I’m not sure we will ever heal. I’m not sure anybody does,” Sonka said.

What he is sure about is that any family of the fallen should be treated with respect and dignity.

It’s why Sonka said he's having a tough time understanding the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s response to the recent deaths of four U.S. soldiers.

“Nothing about that should have ever even been mentioned. From either side,” Sonka said.

Sonka said when his son died, the response from the White House meant nothing to him.

Then-Assistant Secretary Of Defense Ashton Carter was at Dover Air Force Base when his son’s body returned to the U.S.

“In the most insincere way, he patted us on the shoulder and said ‘I’m very sorry for your loss.’ He was horrible. Absolutely horrible," Sonka said.

His family also received a letter from President Barack Obama.

“We got the letter that everybody gets. I got the letter and I figured that’s going to be a rubber stamp thing,” he said.

Sonka said it all lacked sincerity. But it was his experience and he chose to keep it private.

What did matter was the support he got from his loved ones and his son's brothers in uniform.

He hopes the conversation happening now turns from one of controversy to one that honors the nation's heroes.

“I think it’s taking away from every man and woman who have died for that flag,” Sonka said.

The Sonka family is honoring David’s memory by giving back to those who serve.

David was a dog handler in the military. The Sonkas run the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project.

It helps veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by getting them the training they need to train service pets.

RELATED: FOX31 Problem Solvers Serving Those Who Serve