Not all Gold Star families are upset with President Donald Trump.
Trump was buffeted this week by growing controversy over his conversation with the widow of an American soldier killed in Niger, after a Democratic congresswoman said that Trump told the widow her late husband “knew what he signed up for.” Trump denied that, though the mother of the soldier confirmed the account of the lawmaker.
But the father of another one of the four American soldiers killed in Niger said Wednesday that Trump was respectful when he called with his condolences. Arnold Wright, the father of the late Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, said he and Trump spoke for about 20 minutes, and that Trump mostly listened.
“He talked to me about the loss of my son and how he served with honor and dignity and he just wanted to give me a call to thank me,” Arnold Wright told TIME in a phone interview. “I told him the kind of man Dustin was. We talked about his deployment. … We got troops out there with no air cover. There are still teams in the country. That was the main point that was the conversation.”
Arnold Wright said he had no qualms about the fact that Trump’s phone call came nearly two weeks after his son’s death was announced.
The show of support for Trump by a Gold Star father came as Trump is under fire from Democrats, former military leaders and other Gold Star families for his handling of the aftermath of the soldiers’ deaths in Niger. In defending his delay before calling the families, Trump falsely asserted Monday that former President Barack Obama had never made such calls. The controversy flared anew when Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson said that Trump told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Trump on Wednesday called that account of their conversation “totally fabricated,” but Cowanda Jones-Johnson, Staff Sgt. Johnson’s mother, confirmed Wilson’s account and told the Washington Post that “President Trump did disrespect my son.”
Arnold Wright had a different experience in talking to Trump about his late son.
“The tone was great,” Wright said. “His comments were appropriate.”
When pressed if Trump had said something similar to him, Wright said twice that Trump did not, adding that he didn’t see anything problematic about it anyway.
“I’ll say it: my son knew what he signed up for. He signed up to be a green beret. He had no illusions about what that meant,” said Wright, a military veteran himself. “My son came from a military family with a tradition that dates back to 1812. He fully knew what it means to serve and the risk involved.”
Wright, who declined to say whether he supported Trump in the 2016 election, said the focus should be on the lost soldiers and not Trump’s response.
“This isn’t about Donald Trump and this isn’t about a damn phone call,” he said. “This is about my son and the kind of man he was. He died in a bad situation that needs to be changed. And he’s not coming back home.”
—With additional reporting by Sarah Begley