Tuesday, October 9, 2012

White House Condolence Form Letter in Use Since 2009 [Updated]

    Just weeks after Barack Obama was inaugurated, the following story appeared in the New York Daily News:
WASHINGTON - President Obama has adopted role model Abraham Lincoln's practice of writing deeply personal letters to the families of troops killed in battle. He signs them "Barack." 
Bill Brennan, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Julian Brennan, said at first he barely glanced at the letter he had received last week. 
"I assumed it was a form letter and then I saw that he had signed it - just 'Barack.' You could tell it wasn't a stamped signature. I was so surprised he signed it with only his first name. We were very touched," the Brooklyn dad said Tuesday.
Without disclosing the details of the letter, Brennan said, "It had some personal mentions about Julian's history. I was inspired to respond." 
An aspiring actor, Julian Brennan, 25, was killed by a land mine Jan. 24, the first U.S. combat death in Afghanistan during Obama's presidency.
Obama has since written to the families of about a dozen troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He handwrites the notes, has an aide type them up and then signs the version to be delivered to loved ones.
Now that his first term in office is nearing its end, it appears that practice may have been short-lived.  A story recently appeared on the website Click2Houston.com describing the disappointment expressed by the father of a recently killed Marine over the letter of condolence received from the president:
A man who lost a son to the war in Afghanistan is disappointed in the condolence letter he received from President Barack Obama.
Tom Logan, a Willis resident, calls the note late, impersonal, disrespectful and essentially a form letter.
"It opened up a wound in our heart you can't fix. You can't send another letter. You can't make it right," Logan said.
Logan's son, USMC Cpl. Joseph D. Logan, was killed Jan. 19, 2012, along with five other men when the helicopter they were in crashed.
Joey Logan was 22.
The story links to two letters to families of other service members (here and here) also killed in action.  I have reproduced the body of each letter below:
Letter #1, May 9, 2012

Letter #2, May 9, 2012
Around the end of August, a story appeared, first at the Gateway Pundit, about nearly identical letters received by a numbers of families of service members killed in August 2011.  At the time, there was suspicion that the letters were signed by a machine, but my analysis dispelled that accusation.  However, the letters themselves were indeed form letters just like the May 9, 2012 letters above.

Letter #1, September 23, 2011
Letters #2-#4, September 23, 2011 
Letters #5-#7, September 23, 2011
The latter two images are more difficult to make out, but as far as I can determine, the wording of the final two paragraphs is virtually identical to the others letters above.

    In February 2011, an article appeared on the Austin, TX, Statesmen.com website honoring Marine Cpl. Tevan Nguyen of Hutto, killed in Afghanistan on Dec. 28, 2010.  Although an image of the letter is not provided, the article contains the following quote:
"A simple letter cannot ease the pain of losing a child, but I hope you take solace in knowing that his brave service exceeded all measures of selflessness and devotion to his country," President Barack Obama wrote.
This sentence, of course, comes from the now familiar middle paragraph present in all the other letters above.

    Finally, in November 2009, a long overdue letter from the White House came to the family of Gregg Wenzel, a CIA operative killed in Ethiopia in July 2003.  His family posted the letter online at a site set up to honor this man.  Here we find what may be the prototype for the letter the White House continued to send to grieving families for at least the next two and a half years:

Letter, November 2, 2009

    With more than 1,500 service members killed in Afghanistan since Barack Obama became president, as well as others (such as Wenzel the CIA operative) who have died in the line of duty, the above represents a very small sample of the condolence letters that have gone out from the White House in the last four years.  (President Obama even changed the White House condolence letter policy to include service members who commit suicide while deployed in a combat zone.)  However, I can find no examples of condolence letters that do not fit the pattern of those I have presented here.  If any are brought to my attention, I will gladly link to them.

    The President may have entered office trying to emulate Abraham Lincoln, but soon surrendered to the less labor-intensive and less personal form letter.  For those whose family members have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, such a letter from the Commander in Chief must be cold comfort.  A President whose campaign currently offers 23 different eCards (topics ranging from the repeal of DADT to the end of the war in Iraq to women's rights) should have found the time to ease the pain of these families with a bit more of a human touch.

UPDATE: I noticed that Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit actually posted a similar story yesterday around 12:15, about half a day before my story was posted. [I moved this update to the bottom of this post in October of 2017.]


  1. How sad. We need a President who spends less time campaigning and more time leading...

    1. I think you may actually be the sad one here. I applaud the president's ability to show sincere sympathy and honor the families of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Thank You, Mr President.

    2. I am also pleased to see the POTUS expressing condolences to the next of kin. He authored the text used and personally signs them which should be sufficient.

      Bush #2, his predecessor also sent similar "form" letters with a text he authored for that purpose, just as Obama has (a 2003 Newsweek article discussed Bush's letters). The POTUS isn't required to do this and some presidents in the past have not sent condolence letters.

  2. Letter #1 of September 23, 2011 actually mentions that President Obama was present when the service member's remains came back to the US. How much more personal can you get! It looks like in each letter the first paragraph is more personalized, including the one for the CIA operative, by mentioning the deceased agent's reasons for joining the CIA. Not all are this personalized. That may depend on how much info the White House has on the troop and also by how much they can disclose. But certainly, there are parts of the letter that use the same words to express the Presidents' condolences. So what? His predecessor also had some language that was used in many of the letters. Perhaps you think the President should have handwritten or typed them all. Obama insisted on signing each one personally. I understand that people who are grieving are sometimes strongly affected by small slights as well as by simple acts of humanity. I can excuse their lashing out, in their grief, at our nation's leader. You have no such excuse. What would Lincoln have done if he had word processors available. We will never know, but we do know that a 21st Century president has far more to do and worry about than a president in the 19th Century.