The father of William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL who died in a counter-terrorism mission in Yemen and the first soldier to die under Donald Trump’s watch, told the Miami Herald on Friday that he asked not to meet Trump when he came to pay his respects to his deceased son.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Ryan Smith, 36, died on Jan. 28 during a intelligence-gathering raid on al Qaeda forces in Yemen that resulted in the death of Smith and the injury of three of his fellow SEAL Team 6 members. Without making a public announcement, President Trump, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, flew to Dover Air Force Base to honor the fallen soldier.
In an interview with the Herald on Friday, Owens’ father said that he, distraught from having lost his son in what he decried as a “stupid mission,” refused to see the president. The Herald reports:
Owens’ father, Bill, had learned only a short time before the ceremony that Trump was coming. Owens was sitting with his wife, Marie, and other family members in the solemn, living room-like space where the loved ones of the fallen assemble before they are taken to the flight line.
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,’’ Owens recalled telling the chaplain who informed him that Trump was on his way from Washington. “I told them I don’t want to meet the President.”
“I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” Owens’ father said.
According to the Herald, Owens, who is a military veteran, had chafed at Trump’s public feud with a Gold Star family during the election, and now he is questioning the motives behind the failed mission that resulted in the death of his son. Trump had signed off on the mission two days before it was launched and just six days into his presidency. The go-ahead, Owens suggested, should never have been given.
“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” asked Owens. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?”
The elder Owens also rebuked Trump for his defense of the mission and what Owens characterized as hiding behind his son.
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” he said, adding, “The government owes my son an investigation.”
The White House responded on Saturday by praising Ryan Owens as “an American hero” and saying that the Defense Department reviews missions that result in the loss life, but declined to offer specific response to the senior Owens’ criticisms.