Joe Biden was recently criticized by many Gold Star families who lost their soldiers in the Kabul airport attack that killed thirteen American servicemembers and almost 200 others. The man everyone said would bring “empathy” back to the White House could not stop talking about his own loss long enough to hear from grieving parents. The families left their meeting with Biden feeling ignored, unheard, disrespected, and angry.
Empathy matters. Compassion matters. We have to reach out to one another and heal this country — and that’s what I’ll do as president. pic.twitter.com/XVDnUc32Ij
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) February 6, 2020
Rylee McCollum’s father and sisters were also scheduled to meet with Biden but refused to take the meeting because they hold Biden personally responsible for his death. McCollum’s widow, Jiennah McCollum, was the only one who ended up staying to speak with Biden, but that meeting did not go over well, according to the Washington Post. Rylee’s sister, Roice McCollum, told the Washington Post that Jiennah left disappointed and that Biden brought up his son Beau, describing his service and his battle with cancer—as he did in his first public remarks after the terror attack. Roice said it struck the family as “scripted and shallow.” She said the conversation, which only lasted a couple of minutes, showed “total disregard to the loss of our Marine.”
Margolis also reported on other families who felt the same in another article, chastising Biden for using his dead son so often for sympathy and to make excuses.
“When he just kept talking about his son so much it was just — my interest was lost in that,” said Mark Schmitz, whose 20-year-old son Jared died in Kabul. “I was more focused on my own son than what happened with him and his son. I’m not trying to insult the president, but it just didn’t seem that appropriate to spend that much time on his own son.”
I reached out to my cousin, Audrey Leehan Brasee, a Gold Star widow whose story you can read about here, because she’s been through losing a soldier and all the horror and pomp and circumstance that goes with it, including meeting a president of the United States. I wanted to get her reaction to Biden’s words to grieving parents and spouses and find out how her experience was different with President Trump.
“Don’t ever compare your kid’s cancer story to someone being murdered,” she wrote. “There’s a big difference.” She told me about the time she was invited to the White House to honor her fallen husband, who was killed in action by an IED in Afghanistan during Barack Obama’s term in 2014.
I never expected anything to be done for us when Damon died. I didn’t even get a handwritten signature on my condolence letter from President Obama. He could only be bothered with his stamp. When Trump came into office, he did more than make up for it.
We received a handwritten invitation to the White House, all expenses paid including flights and hotel. When we arrived at the White House we were escorted in with wait staff everywhere offering drinks and food. We were wined and dined. Then we were called as individual families to go in and take a picture with the president and Melania. They took the time out from the picture to ask us how we are doing and how have we coped with our loss. He even knew who our soldier was. I never had to say his name. He instantly said, “I thank 1LT Leehan for his sacrifice, as well as your family.”
I was blown away that he knew all of us and it felt like he did forever. He even took the time to ask my kids what they were into, what sports they played and told them how amazing they are. Not once did he say one single thing about their family life, anyone lost, heartbreak…nothing. It was all about us as individual families. When that was done, we were escorted into a room with candles for each and every fallen soldier. They did a beautiful ceremony for that as well. Trump sat right in with all of us. You would have thought he was just a part of our families.
— Megan Fox 🦊 (@MeganFoxWriter) September 8, 2021
Audrey has some words of wisdom for the families who recently lost their loved ones, many of whom have been fighting with social media censors and doing interviews.
When your loved one is killed, all the emotions flood in. More than anything, you will be pissed off and angry asking all the questions in your head like, “What was this all for?” The anger will fade over time and turn into acceptance. It’s important to remember that, when you’re in the midst of anger, your loved one believed in this war and that’s why they put that uniform on daily and risked their lives. I think it’s important to channel that and move forward with living a life that would make them proud. We can’t change the hand we were dealt, although we wish we could. I think they would want us to live our lives to the fullest. Do it for them because they can’t.
Audrey also offered some advice about social media.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that we are silenced when our loved ones died to protect our freedoms: Freedom of Speech being one. We should be allowed to voice our opinions, but ,unfortunately, we are not. My only advice is to seek counseling because it helps tremendously and also get a journal. Write all of your thoughts and anger down since you can’t on social media. Sometimes just writing it helps get out those overwhelming emotions. Most of the time writing on social media when you are in the depths of despair will always make it worse. Other people’s opinions can destroy you during this time. You just have to put your head down and do what you know is best for your family and what your soldier would want for you.
It’s unfortunate that Biden does not have the tact or empathy to embrace Gold Star families the way he should. Let us hope that in 2024, a better administration will right these wrongs and follow President Trump’s lead to give these families the experience they should have had at the White House. Considering the generous nature of President Trump and his deep love for the military I wouldn’t be surprised if he invites them all to Mar-a-Lago before then anyway.