Rumsfeld to Personally Sign Condolence Letters

Lawmakers Chide Rumsfeld for Auto-Signed Sympathy Letters (Reuters)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not personally sign his name on letters of condolence to families of troops killed in Iraq but instead had it done by a machine, an action lawmakers said on Sunday showed insensitivity and was inappropriate for leadership during war.

Rumsfeld acknowledged that he had not signed the letters to family members of more than 1,000 U.S. troops killed in action and in a statement said he would now sign them in his own hand. “This issue of the secretary of Defense not personally signing the letters is just astounding to me and it does reflect how out of touch they are and how dismissive they are,” Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”


Hagel noted that the families of the troops killed in Iraq have received letters signed by Bush. “My goodness, that is the least we can expect the secretary of Defense … If the president can find the time to do that why can’t the secretary of Defense?” said Hagel, who has been a sharp critic of the way Bush has handled the Iraq war.

Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island said family members of those killed, “would like to think that at least for a moment the secretary thought about individually this young man or this young woman.”


“I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action,” Rumsfeld said in a statement on Sunday.”

“While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter.”

After Outcry, Rumsfeld Says He Will Sign Condolence Letters (WaPo)

The Pentagon has acknowledged that Donald H. Rumsfeld did not sign condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, but it said that from now on the embattled defense secretary would stop the use of signing machines and would pick up the pen himself. In a statement provided to Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, Rumsfeld said: “I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action. While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter.”

The controversy arose when soldier-turned-writer David H. Hackworth penned a column on Nov. 22 reporting that two Pentagon-based colonels told him that Rumsfeld “has relinquished this sacred duty to a signature device rather than signing the sad documents himself.” After checking with various families of the dead, Hackworth wrote that “one father bitterly commented that he thought it was a shame that the SecDef could keep his squash schedule but not find the time to sign his dead son’s letter.” Hackworth wrote that a Pentagon spokesman, Jim Turner, dutifully told him that “Rumsfeld signs the letters himself.” Now, that assertion turns out to be inoperative.

Of all the reasons to criticize Rumsfeld, this has to be by far the silliest. Sadly, it will likely have the most traction with the public. Did Robert McNamara personally sign all the letters from Vietnam? Or the various Service Secretaries during World War II? I hardly think so.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    “Asinine” doesn’t even begin to describe these knuckleheads’ comments. Hagel, the two colonels and especially that nincompoop Hackworth should be soundly spanked in the public square.

    How idiotic.

  2. anjin-san says:

    I would be willing to buy tickets to see Boyd step up to take on two decorated combat vets like Hackworth & Hagel with something other then his mouth.

    Funny how so many on the right seem to like war so much while also seeming to hate the men who actually fight them…

  3. I would be willing to buy tickets to see Boyd step up to take on two decorated combat vets like Hackworth & Hagel with something other then his mouth.

    The penis story is one post up. Thanks for playing.

  4. anjin-san says:


    OK you stick to that story. Whatever turns you on dude…

  5. LJD says:

    This is an effort purely designed to discredit Rumsfeld, nothing more. It does absolutely nothing to help the families who grieve. The left seems solely concerned with THEIR feelings towards the war, vets and their families be damned.

    Funny how people on the left hate the war so much and try to seem like they care about the soldiers. They don’t. They just care about their agendas.

  6. Boyd says:

    Mr Pilot, you display your ignorance once again.

    How do you know these colonels are decorated combat veterans? All we know is that they are colonels, and “decorated combat veteran” isn’t a requirement to achieve that position.

    But let’s give you a pass on that assumption. I’ll even concede that it’s likely they’re “decorated combat veterans.” Guess what? I am too. So what?

    And it sounds like you’re suggesting that I get into some sort of wrestling or boxing match with these colonels. What would that prove? And why do you suggest it? Is your bag of ideas so empty that you think it’s time to resort to fisticuffs? Might makes right?

    And what makes you think these colonels are fighting the war? If you carefully read the stories (use your fingers to follow along, if necessary. Mouthing the words as you read is permitted, too), you’ll find that they’re in the Pentagon. They’re not fighting the war.

    You’d have some good points sometimes if 1) you had some experience with the subject, or 2) you had some knowledge on the subject. Since it’s apparent, especially in this case, you have neither, you don’t really have much of a basis for your contempt.

    For me.

    A decorated war veteran.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Hackworth is a highly decorated Vietnam vet. He bills himself as the most decorated of the war, which is a bit much since he doesn’t have the Medal and others do. But his fruit salad is impressive:

      # Distinguished Service Cross (with one Oak Leaf Cluster)
      # Silver Star (with nine Oak Leaf Clusters)
      # Legion of Merit (with three Oak Leaf Clusters)
      # Distinguished Flying Cross
      # Bronze Star Medal (with “V” Device & seven Oak Leaf Clusters)(Seven of the awards for heroism)
      # Purple Heart (with seven Oak Leaf Clusters)
      # Air Medal (with “V” Device & Numeral 34)(One for heroism and 33 for aerial achievement)

    I read Hack a lot and respect his views. I often disagree with him, though. He’s very consistently a “boots on the ground” type of guy. He doesn’t quite “get” military transformation.

  8. ken says:

    James, do you know what this this so called ‘military trasformation’ is that you say Hack and other don’t ‘get’?

    From what I can see all it means is spending money where it is not needed, SMD, and scrimping where it is, Iraq. I think you are confusing ‘getting’ something with approval of the same. It is possible that Hack perfectly understands what Bush and Rumsfeld are up to but strongly disapproves of it on principled grounds.

  9. James Joyner says:

    ken: Hack is stuck in a Vietnam-era mindset. He doesn’t believe in combat multipliers, which have proven so successful as to be virtually beyond debate. A huge, people-centric Army makes sense for occupation duty. It’s no way to fight a war.

  10. ken says:

    James, you are talking as if the ‘war’ is over. I would think that for the insurgents in Iraq it is just getting started.

    Having the most powerful military in the world roll through a country that has been starved and bombarded for ten years into a hollow shell is not a significant test of military theory.

    And refusing to use adequate manpower in Afganhistan in order to capture Osama because of some theory of force multiplication is worse than criminal, it is dumb.

    Our military was strong enough to succeed in Afganistan, instead it failed to capture the man responsible for attacking the US. And that failure is not the fault of people like Hackworth or others who criticized the administration for their willfull blindness to reality.

  11. Attila Girl says:

    And remember: the WoT is about one guy. Getting one guy. Never forget that.

  12. LJD says:

    Yeah… we BOMBED Iraq for ten years. The starvation of the Iraqis is OUR fault. Not the U.N. Not Saddam. Not the surrounding Arab nations who don’t give a damn about anything but THEIR OIL money.

    And I love hearing the successful soundbites of the Kerry Campaign… “We were distracted in Iraq and allowed Osama to escape….” Yeah, that’s what happened. Way to “support the troops” who were actually there, uh, chasing Osama and stuff.

    Ditto Attila Girl.

  13. ken says:

    Such short memories conservatives have. Even regarding the words of their own beloved leader.

    Bush gave the Taliban a warning that if they did not turn over Bin Laden and his cohorts then the US would come and get them. I think he actually gave them a thirty day deadline to comply.

    This was perfectly clear and supported by everyone. When the Taliban failed to deliver we had the right to go get the terrorists. That the single most important person in the WoT escaped is entirely the fault of Bush and the way he chose to conduct the action with too few soldiers for the job at hand.

    So if the WoT is not about capturing or stopping the terrorist what is it about? Invading a country that had nothing to do with it? I see.

  14. anjin-san says:


    Actually I was referring to Hackworth & Hagel. Hackworth is probably the most decorated living American combat vet and Hagel is also a highly decorated combat vet. The colonels are simply sources for Hackworth and not all that important to the story. They are certalinly not public figures.

    So much for my ignorance. James has been kind enough to share Hackworth’s record with us, Hagel’s is easily documented. He has two Purple Heart’s, I would be glad to provide more information.

    Before you call someone ignorant, please try to have at least a portion of a clue…

  15. LJD says:

    Hey- open your f-ing ears. Or if you can only repeatedly hear what you want, then write it down on a piece of paper and gently tuck it up your ass… tee hee.

    President Bush DID give a warning to the Taliban, and he acted on it. He DID order all of the appropriate forces to Afghanistan to capture Osama. The U.S. military DID and IS doing a great job cleaning up Afghanistan. It is a completely unprecedented success. The Russians were bogged down there for years.

    No one can say how Osama escaped of IF he would have been caught if plan B had been enacted. Not the top experts on Afghanistan, not the generals, certainly not armchair bloggers unable to escape the 2004 campaign rhetoric. One thing is certain, he is on the run, and we have not been attacked since 9/11.

    In THE REAL WORLD, things do not always go as planned. You can NEVER say, if we had only done X, then Y would have happened without doubt. If you could, then we should be blaming Bill CLinton for missing HIS opportunity to take out Osama, BEFORE 9/11.

    Wake the hell up. The election is over. What could you possibly hope to gain by spreading all of this ignorant B.S.?

  16. Maggie says:

    I blame Senator Shelby…wasn’t he the one who told the reporter how we were locating Bin Laden by triangulating his position via cell phone calls. If you were in the media, would you have reported that “secret” possibly “top secret” information?
    A story over national security – no wonder there is so little respect for the MSM.

    I support Rumsfeld…and as far as condolence letters go: STOP WITH THE DAMN OPRAH MOMENTS.

    I mourn the loss of each and every soldier. But I would much rather that Rumsfeld have all his attention on keeping the rest of our troops alive than sitting down at a desk signing papers.

  17. anjin-san says:


    What a shame Rumsfeld has not figured out a way to get sufficient armor to our guys in the last year.

    I think if a form letter is the best Rumsfeld’s office can do they should just skip it & go with a letter from the commanding officer.

  18. batvette says:

    Anjin-san, at the point where the question was posed to Rumsfeld, (forgive me if I’m mistaken) only 8,000 of 30,000 vehicles in Iraq remained to be retrofitted.

    Since the first war, man has adapted his techniques of attack to whatever is effective against an enemy’s defense, and exploiting it.

    It is not as simple as “get more armour and the troops stop dying!”

    Stop the war, put all of your eggs in one basket and worry about this one threat? You will likely leave open a rear flank for them to exploit.

    Within a week, they will double the size of the charge- or place charges in berms, walls, or bridge supports to get around the floor armour.

    Rumsfelsd is not their mommy. He is responsible for the safety of 300 million. I damn sure hope he isn’t so broken up over 25 men a week he forgets that.

    For Chrissakes the man wages war for a living. I spent 4 years in the Navy working as a troubleshooter for F-4 Phantoms on the USS Coral Sea. Many times, we had to “make the best of what we had”.

    Had those Hummers been outfitted with all that armour in Bosnia, (or if we’d have been in North Korea in winter!) they’d have been stuck in the mud from all the extra weight. You prepare for expected threats the best you can, and make the best of it with what you brought.

    You might feel more comfy with Captain Kangaroo being “nice” to the troops, but the man was simply telling it like it is.

    BTW, DID McNamara sign all the letters home from Vietnam? According to Stars and Stripes, each death receives at least 2, if not 3-4 actual original, signed letters.

    John. San Diego, Ca.

  19. LJD says:


    It’s not about Rumsfeld’s actions… It’s all about anything to discredit the President and the administration. The left never shifted out of campaign mode when they were so decisively defeated.

  20. batvette says:

    What I have to wonder is…. Okay. The election is over. The only way to advance candidate “ABB”‘s standing, was to tank the President’s policies. AMERICA’s policies. All the Democratic congress, who claimed to be duped by Bush, (but know foreign policy and know we did what we had to do) now quietly concede we have a job to do.
    They tried to erode resolve for the war, and we all know it- Every time Gore and Kennedy, their hatchet men, screamed “Another Vietnam! Bring the boys home!” and it replayed on CNN….. some nutjob straps on a turban and gets off his ass and heads to Iraq and thinks “one more body bag and the Americans go home- and Iraq is ours!”

    You can bet they pay more attention to CNN satellite feeds than we do. THEY ARE the news.

    So, failing in the plan to tank the war and ride its failure into the white house… when will rank and file Democrats wake up and get with the program? We’re there, folks. It HAS to work. You’ve had your say, you didn’t like the decision to go. The doubting by your Democrab leaders, I’m afraid, was somewhat of an act- they sit on foreign intel committees. They help shape M.E. policy. In 4 years both sides can make up a new scam on each other.

    It doesn’t have to be a “Vietnam”. We don’t have to smear sh*t all over ourselves in front of the world just to prove to them how talented we are at licking it off! We make the biggest deal out of Abu Graibh and the like ourselves!

    What do you hope to gain by constantly complaining what a bad idea it was? Self fulfilling prophecy, me thinks.

    Check your moral compass. The people of Iraq, and the boots on the ground, deserve better. No war is won on bad attitudes. Bush is aware of your criticism. It’s not over yet, though.

    There are a half dozen reasons to be in Iraq. All of them were valid except the story we gave the UN. Saddam of course was not dumb enough to leave lying around, the justification for losing his country. Stockpiles.

    Who could never be told the real one. That’s the one contained in the number the DOD is not keeping track of, “insurgent deaths”. Some Iraqis. Some outsiders- Terrorists.

    Now do you chase around rats with a net, or play the carnival game, “whack-a-mole”?

    Nope, you lay a trap for them, and let them come to you. Last wild guess of the DoD’s rat count was about 15-20k. Good hunting, to our servicemen.

    John. San Diego, Ca.