PORTLAND, Maine — The brother of a Maine Marine who died during a training exercise over the summer said his family was never contacted by the White House, further undermining President Trump’s recent claim that he has called the relatives of every soldier who fell during his time in office.
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Benjamin Cross, 26, of Bethel, was among three Americans killed when a military aircraft crashed off the coast of Australia in August. But Cross’ brother said his family never heard from Trump, who said this week that he’s reached out to the family of every fallen soldier but that past presidents have not.
“It’s just upsetting that the president has portrayed himself as a champion for the armed forces when in actuality he’s more interested in telling the American people how much he cares about our service members than showing his support through action,” said Ryan Cross, who is an Army veteran.
The Cross family is one of several who have said the president did not reach out after a relative died in military service. Their experience, which was first reported by the Portland Press Herald, is part of the most recent in a string of controversies over Trump’s treatment of Gold Star families.
Benjamin Cross, who graduated from Bethel’s Telstar High School in 2009, was killed when the V-22 Osprey he was flying in went down off Australia’s east coast this summer. He died alongside Cpl. Nathaniel Ordway, 21, of Sedgwick, Kansas, and Pfc. Ruben Velasco, 19, of Los Angeles. The aircraft’s 23 other passengers survived the crash.
The Cross family received condolence messages from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the office of Gov. Paul LePage, according to Ryan Cross. But the older Cross brother, who retired as an Army infantry officer days before Benjamin’s death, said the president never reached out.
Trump has been embroiled in a controversy over his response to the recent deaths of four Green Berets in Niger.
On Monday, he said that past presidents had not called the families of American troops killed in the line of duty, a comment that drew swift rebuke from aides to former President Barack Obama. Then on Tuesday, Trump told Fox News that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died and it’s the hardest call to make.”
Some relatives of fallen soldiers, who are referred to as Gold Star families for the lapel pin that the military gives them, have confirmed that the president contacted them. Several, however, told that they’ve had the same experience as the Cross family.
“I think [Trump’s] comments are just another example of how out of touch with reality he is,” said Ryan Cross. “Regardless, his assertion that he has reached out to every Gold Star family is unequivocally false.”
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly — a former Marine Corps general whose son, Robert, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 — defended the president’s actions Thursday, calling Trump’s decision to call the families of fallen soldiers “brave.” And Trump has criticized media organizations for reporting that contradicts his claims.
Ryan Cross, however, wanted his family’s experience out there.
“I think it’s a story that needs to be told,” he said.
Follow Jake Bleiberg at @JZBleiberg.
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