Opinion: Why Gold Star families felt disrespected by Biden

The loss of a son is devastating, and no one should begrudge Biden’s expressions of the grief about Beau’s premature death. However, the families were appalled that Biden focused on his son’s death rather their own loss during their very brief meetings with him.

“It just didn’t seem that appropriate to spend that much time on his own son”, said Mark Schmitz, the father of Jared Schmitz, a 20-year-old Marine Corps Lance Corporal who was one of 13 warriors killed at the Kabul airport. This sentiment was repeated by family members of the other 12 service members killed in the suicide bomb attack.

To understand their anger, you have to recognize that Beau’s death was not at all similar to the deaths of their loved ones.

•        Beau never served in combat.

•        Beau’s death had nothing to do with Afghanistan, and was a full 7 years after returning from his 8 months in Iraq

Here are more details on these important differences. Beau’s unit was deployed in 2008. He spent two months in training at Ft. Bliss and following his attendance at his father’s inauguration on January 20, Beau joined his outfit in Iraq long after hostilities and combat operations had largely ceased.

He was a JAG officer, a lawyer for the Army. He worked in an airconditioned office far from any danger. Beau returned home in September 2008, having spent 8 months in Iraq.

Beau was 46 when he died of brain cancer in 2015, more than 6 years after he returned home. In those intervening years Beau lived long enough to marry, have two children, and be reelected as Delaware’s Attorney General.

In contrast the oldest of warriors killed in Kabul died at 31 – 15 years younger than Beau died. All the rest were in their early 20’s. One of the 13, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, 20, married in February and he and his wife were eagerly awaiting the birth of a child this month.

In sum, while Beau died at an early age, he had the chance to live a rich and fulfilling life. On the other hand, the 13 who died in last week’s bombing lived tragically short lives. They had not even begun to fulfill their potential, and their deaths leave a yawning and painful hole in the lives of those who loved them. No one who hasn’t lost a family member in combat can comprehend what they are going through.

That surely explains why Mark Schmitz didn’t want to hear about Beau Biden. To focus on Beau rather than their loss offensive in the extreme.

Another Gold Star family member, Roise McCollum, whose brother Rylee died at the age of 20 described their brief moment with Biden, “It struck the family as scripted and shallow, a conversation that lasted only a couple of minutes in ‘total disregard to the loss of our Marine”.

With similar sentiments, Shana Chapell, whose son Kareem Nikoui, was a 20-year-old Marine when he died at the airport related that she told Biden that “I would never get to hug my son again, hear his laugh and then you tried to interrupt me and tell me your own sob story and I had to tell you “This isn’t about you. So, don’t make it about you. You then said you just wanted me to know you knew how I feel, and I let you know that you don’t know how I feel.” At that point Ms. Chapell relates that Biden rolled his eyes at her and turned his back on her and dismissively waved his hand behind his back as if to say “Oh, whatever”.

One combat veteran commented, “There is a difference between empathy and narcissism. He made it about himself not her or her husband. That’s narcissism. And it’s pathetic.”

Columnist William McGurn aptly noted, “(Biden) bizarrely keeps invoking his son … whose early death from brain cancer was tragic but has nothing to do with Afghanistan, much less the 11 Marines, Navy corpsman and Army soldier killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing. Mr. Biden is not a Gold Star father and should stop playing one on TV.”

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