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October 20 2017

General John Kelly Gave Us Something All Too Rare in Public Life Yesterday: A Chance to Be Proud of a Leader

by Charlotte Hays

General John Kelly came into the White House briefing room yesterday to bring some honor, dignity and clarity to the how-low-can-we-go controversy over President Trump's condolence call to the family of a fallen soldier. If you haven't listened to it in full, you should (transcript here). It provides something all too rare nowadays: a chance to be proud of somebody in public life.

Kelly, the father of Second Lt. Robert Kelly, who died in combat, did not pull any punches.  Kelly said that he was "stunned"  that a member of Congress would use the death of a soldier in the way Miami Rep. Frederica Wilson has used the death of Sgt. La David Johnson. Wilson has created one of the most disgusting of public controversies by claiming that President Trump insulted the widow of a fallen soldier when he made a condolence call.

Rep. Wilson's claimed that the president was callous in saying that Sgt. Johnson, who was killed in Niger,  "knew what he had signed up for."

But why is that an insult? It is similar to what Kelly's best friend told him when his son was killed.

Kelly said that he had advised the president not to make the call because "Sir, there is nothing you can do to lighten the burdens on these families." But the president wanted to call anyway and asked Kelly what to say. The General replied:

Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, 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’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.

That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There’s no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken.

That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted.

So that is the root of President Trump's insult trumpeted abroad by Rep. Fredericka Wilson.

Kelly got one fact slightly wrong: he said that Rep. Wilson had listened in on the call to Sgt. Johnson's wife. Actually, the call was on speaker phone. But that doesn't change the disgraceful use Rep. Wilson made of the call.

There are several portions of Kelly's remarks that I hope we will read and remember. On how he coped with learning about Fredericka Wilson's use of the dead soldier:

And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying, and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this Earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery. I went over there for an hour-and-a-half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.

On the decline of values in American life as reflected by this disgraceful controversy:

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.

Kelly described in detail the way the body of a fallen soldier is brought home. He described how the casualty officer goes to the fallen solder's home and waits for the "first lights" to go on and then "breaks the heart" of a father, mother, or spouse. The Wall Street Journal commented on this section of Kelly's remarks:

What he described was a military process that is graphic, emotionally intense and, most of all, untouchable.

Untouchable, as Mr. Kelly made clear, in the sense that what has happened is so grave, so personal and so difficult that the reality of pushing through it comes down to an encounter between the fallen soldier’s family, the officer who informs them and, in time, support from those who served alongside their son or daughter.

In the Q & A period, Kelly minced no words, describing Rep. Wilson (who has repeatedly voted against legislation designed to help military families) as being one of the "empty barrels making the most noise."

Unsurprisingly, the gentlewoman from Flordia set the tone for the left, which immediately took up the refrain, when she responded, "General Kelly is trying to keep his job. He will say anything."

Well, he said a lot of things yesterday, all of which I hope all Americans will be ponder. He gave us something we don't see often enough in the current political climate: adult speaking about serious matters.

UPDATE: Rep. Frederica Wilson has had a further response to General Kelly's remarks (from Hot Air):

It’s nice to know that Rep. Frederica Wilson’s having fun with the contretemps over a phone call between Donald Trump and a young widow. “It’s amazing,” the Florida Democrat said with a laugh when asked by 7News in Miami for her reaction to John Kelly’s impassioned rebuke yesterday afternoon over her attack on Trump over the call. “I’ll have to tell my kids that I’m a rockstar now.”

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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