Families of the Fallen Say Past Presidents' Letters Offered Comfort

Is part of being commander in chief being consoler in chief?

Some families in the D.C. area whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice say hearing from the commander in chief helped with their grief.

Kristin Johnson had been married only three months before her husband, Cpl. Joshua Scott Harmon, died. He was 20.

"He was killed in a helicopter accident on August 22, 2007 in Iraq," Johnson said.

Johnson said her grief was overwhelming.

"It just suddenly hit a brick wall and it was being lost and not knowing where to go, what to do."

Ten years later, she still remembers a meaningful gesture from former President George W. Bush.

"I received a letter. It was President George Bush at the time," Johnson said. "I felt emotion behind it. It didn’t feel like it was, you know, just some generic thing."

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Johnson also met with Bush in the Oval Office.

The subject of presidents offering their personal condolences to military families has been brought to light this week as controversy surrounded President Trump's remarks to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger by Islamist militants on Oct. 4.

Rep. Frederica Wilson said she was with the widow at the time President Trump called her and Trump said her husband "must've known what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway."

Trump has denied Wilson's account of the phone call.

Maryland native Timothy Eckels was killed on the USS McCain in August. His mother Rachel Eckels said she has not received a letter or phone call from President Trump.

While a letter or phone call is a small gesture, some say it makes a big difference.

"It means...that they care and that they are aware of what's happening and I think that’s what every gold star family wants," Johnson said.

"For me, it was important that I got a letter from him, you know, that I got a letter from President Obama - that meant a lot to me," said Arlene Wagner, owner of Bub and Pop's sandwich shop in Northwest D.C.

Wagner's son Peter was killed in action in Afghanistan on Dec. 21, 2015.

She said she tries to keep busy as a way of distracting herself from the pain of losing him.

"It’s devastating. Sometimes it’s debilitating," she said.

Wagner said former President Obama sent her two letters. One letter was sent just days after Peter was killed.

"I think that’s really admirable that he would take the time to write me a personal note," Wagner said.

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