We Should Never Stop Applauding Our Nation’s Military Families

Two weeks after a fallen Navy SEAL's wife was saluted at the Capitol, Americans should keep clapping.

An emotional Carryn Owens, widow of widow of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, as she was acknowledged by President Donald Trump during his address to a joint session of Congress.

By Tom Sileo Published on March 15, 2017

Less than a month after U.S. Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Ryan Owens made the ultimate sacrifice, a joint session of U.S. Congress stood to applaud his wife.

What millions saw on Feb. 28 – the raw, heartbreaking grief on Gold Star widow Carryn Owens’ face as Republicans, Democrats, military leaders, judges and dignitaries clapped for more than two minutes – is already part of American history.

“For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” President Trump said while introducing Chief Owens and his wife to the nation. “Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country and for our freedom – we will never forget him.”

 

 
As our collective memory shortens in the social media age, however, how many of us will ultimately remember the story of Carryn and Ryan Owens? After all, as Gold Star wife Nikki Altmann told me after her husband was killed in Afghanistan, “six months from now, people won’t be calling to see how I’m doing.”

In addition to embracing Gold Star wives like Nikki and Carryn, we should be praying for the entire military community.

In addition to embracing Gold Star wives like Nikki and Carryn, we should be praying for the entire military community. The risks our country’s brave men and women in uniform face in global hotspots like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Korean peninsula are very real.

Supporting our troops and sharing the stories of our country’s fallen warriors and their families is as non-political as the Fourth of July. Yet as is often the case in this hyper-partisan era, a misguided few chose to besmirch the importance of honoring a Gold Star widow’s tenacity and her husband’s distinguished service.

“Actually, it was the worst moment (of the speech), and that’s saying a lot for Donald Trump,” liberal comedian Bill Maher said on the March 3 episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. The rest of his ill-advised rant is too vulgar to quote on The Stream.

Slate writer Katy Waldman started the final paragraph of this piece with a truly head-scratching sentence: “But what, exactly, did Trump hope to accomplish by illuminating Carryn Owens’ sorrow?”

How about telling the story of a heroic Navy SEAL and his courageous wife, Ms. Waldman?

Every day, I read heartfelt Facebook posts from Gold Star family members with whom I’ve been privileged to become acquainted. In recent weeks, one widow asked for prayers while her young son struggles with only being able to see his departed dad through videos and pictures. Another post was from a mother who carried pride and a heavy heart as a local park was named in honor of her fallen son.

Gold Star family members are real people dealing with extraordinary challenges. After spending the last eight years speaking with hundreds of these remarkable Americans, I can say with certainty that each grieves and copes differently. All are nevertheless joined by the memories of their heroes, who I hope – spurred by two stirring minutes of applause for Carryn and Ryan Owens – will become ours.

“All that remains is the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters,” legendary Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Carryn Owens didn’t ask to become the face or the name of America’s Gold Star community. If given the chance, she would undoubtedly trade those unforgettable two minutes of applause for two more minutes with her husband, who was only 36 years old when he was killed in Yemen.

As Carryn mourns Ryan, let us mourn with her. As a little boy cries out for his dad, let us weep with him. As Nikki Altmann worries that we won’t remember, let us ease her mind by remembering. As a mother celebrates her son’s life, let us also rejoice. As military families pray for the safety of their loved ones, let us pray, too.

Now is our moment to unite in applause of the selfless men and women who step forward every single day to protect us. I, for one, won’t ever stop clapping.

 

Tom Sileo is co-author of Brothers Forever, Fire in My Eyes and the forthcoming 8 Seconds of Courage. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • m-nj

    I totally agree with public acknowledgment of our men and women in uniform (alive and dead). However, the applause at the speech became cringe-worthy not because it happened, but because it went on for too long.

  • Shannon

    What a wonderful tribute to our military who so deserve everything! My sincere appreciation and respect for Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Ryan Owens who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life for our freedom. Praying for Carryn and her family as you pick up the pieces to rebuild your life. My husband served proudly for 20 years in the military and I for one know that dread we all felt at one time or another not knowing if our spouse would return. God bless you and all that have lost loved ones who also gave the ultimate sacrifice!

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