The combat death of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s 29-year-old son in 2010 was thrust into the news Tuesday when President Donald Trump questioned whether John Kelly ever received a phone call from then-President Obama to express his condolences.
Kelly, the retired four-star general, has spoken publicly on several occasions about the death of his son, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan in November 2010.
Here’s what he said shortly before his retirement last year:
“You know, one of the things about losing any child ― and you can’t imagine until it happens, and I hope to God it never does for you or anyone ― and it doesn’t ― it doesn’t matter how they die.
“To lose a child is ― I can’t imagine anything worse than that. I used to think, when I’d go to all of my trips up to Bethesda, Walter Reed, I’ll go to the funerals with the secretaries of defense, that I could somehow imagine what it would be like.
“Or when I would send young people back from Iraq that died under my command, to somehow try ― as you write those letters, to try to somehow sympathize. And I ― you know, I lost a father, I lost a mother. So you kind of think it’s something like that, but it’s not. It’s nothing like that.
“And so, as a ― as a person that’s lost a ― a child in combat ― and the strong one in all of this is my wife, Karen and ― and ― and my ― my two kids. But when you lose one in combat, there’s ― there’s a ― in my opinion, there’s a pride that goes with it, that he didn’t have to be there doing what he was doing.
“He wanted to be there. He volunteered. Generally speaking, there’s no encouragement in our society today to serve the nation, but many, many, many people do, in uniform, as ― in the military, as well as police officers and CIA and FBI.
“So I think they’re special people, but they were doing what they wanted to do, and they were with who they wanted to be with, when they lost their lives. But I can tell you, it is the most ― it caught me by surprise, the level of emotional impact, and every single day it continues that.
“So gold star families are special, to say the least. –I’m not, but they are. They don’t ask for much. I get ― I get occasional letters from gold star families who are asking, “Was it worth it?”
“And I always go back with this: ‘It doesn’t matter. That’s not our question to ask as parents. That person thought ― that young person thought it was worth it, and that’s the only opinion that counts.’
“They don’t ask for anything, as I say. I think the one thing they would ask is that the cause for which their son or daughter fell be ― be carried through to ―– to a successful end, whatever that means, as opposed to “this is getting too costly,” or “too much of a pain in the ass,” and “let’s just walk away from it.” Because that’s when they start thinking it might have been not worth it.“