Spotlight on fallen soldier's widow

Mrs Owens (left), seated next to Ms Trump, had been invited to watch the President's speech from the First Lady's box. She broke into tears when Mr Trump paid tribute to her late husband.
Mrs Owens (left), seated next to Ms Trump, had been invited to watch the President's speech from the First Lady's box. She broke into tears when Mr Trump paid tribute to her late husband.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • The widow of the Navy Seal who became the first military casualty of US President Donald Trump's new administration broke into tears when he paid tribute to her husband during his address to Congress.

"Ryan died as he lived: A warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation," Mr Trump said, a reference to the Jan 29 raid on an Al-Qaeda stronghold in central Yemen that resulted in the death of Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens.

His widow, Mrs Carryn Owens, had been invited to watch the speech from the First Lady's box - next to the President's daughter, Ms Ivanka Trump - and cameras cut to her reaction. Grief visible on her face, Mrs Owens wore a strained smile and applauded as Mr Trump's extended tribute to her husband inspired one of the longest ovations of the evening.

Mr Trump had strayed from his remarks and addressed Mrs Owens directly, saying her husband was probably "looking down" with pride because he had broken "records" - an apparent reference to the applause the focus on the fallen soldier brought from lawmakers and other officials gathered around them.

While Mrs Owens has accepted the support from the Trump White House, the soldier's father has been more critical. Mr Bill Owens, who is also a veteran, refused to meet the President when he travelled to Dover Air Force Base to pay his respects to the dead Seal.

The raid triggered a sustained storm of criticism. Numerous elements of the operation went wrong, resulting in not only Officer Owens' death but also a score of likely civilian casualties and the destruction of a US$75 million (S$105 million) aircraft. To many national security experts, the new administration's handling of the operation reflected a lack of proper caution and consideration.

According to the White House, Mr Trump spoke with Mrs Owens after the raid, which occurred eight days after he took office and marked a significant escalation in US military activities in Yemen. But the soldier's father questioned the necessity and timing of the operation, and demanded a full investigation.

Even as he highlighted the sacrifice of Chief Petty Officer Owens, Mr Trump, who as US President is also commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, has appeared to refuse to take responsibility for the raid. In an interview broadcast on Tuesday, he said the generals "lost Ryan".

WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Spotlight on fallen soldier's widow'. Print Edition | Subscribe