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Family of fallen soldier warmed by letters, stung by politicians

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Dec. 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
January 3, 2011 1:10 pm

The parents of a Yelm soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this month have received cards from friends and strangers expressing condolences, and they’re grateful for the support.

“As a father of someone killed, it is overwhelming,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Collins (Ret.). His son, Sgt. Sean Collins, was buried Wednesday at the Tahoma National Cemetery.

Among that outpouring of empathy, two politicians inadvertently stung the family.

One slight came in a letter of condolences the family received from the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

At first, the Collins family appreciated that Cantwell had taken the time to send a letter acknowledging their son’s sacrifice.

But the letter misidentified the slain soldier in its last paragraph, which reads:

“Again, please accept my warmest condolences. May your memories of Bryn and the knowledge that he made a positive impact on the lives of so many serve as a source of comfort to you during this time of sorrow.”

The letter was dated Dec. 20 and delivered to Sean Collins’ mother, Linda Collins of Yelm. The error conveyed to the family that Cantwell had sent a form letter.

“They couldn’t even proofread it,” she said. “I’m sure if her son had died, she would’ve at least wanted his name spelled correctly.”

“That’s just sloppy staff work, that’s an embarrassment,” Patrick Collins said. He has not yet called Cantwell’s office to ask for an apology.

Cantwell’s office is on short staffing for the holiday week and has not replied to an email to its press staff. The Collins family was in touch with Cantwell’s office in the capital Thursday, and was told Cantwell’s staffers were looking into the mistake.

The other slight came when Patrick Collins called the White House and asked to have President Obama call his ex-wife, Linda, to talk about their son.

He was told that Obama did not regularly make phone calls to the families of fallen soldiers.

Later, Patrick Collins read a story about Obama’s phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie. Obama reportedly praised Lurie for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance to play football after serving time in prison for running a dog fighting ring.

“That burns,” Patrick Collins said Thursday.

“Any soldier that gets killed in action, you’d think the president would be calling someone in the family. There’s no politics in it. His predecessor did it,” Collins said.

Update – 11 a.m., Jan. 3

Sen. Cantwell spoke with the Collins family Friday to apologize for the mistake in the letter. Here is a statement from her office:

“Senator Cantwell has the greatest respect for Sergeant Sean M. Collins’ service and the deepest sympathy for his family’s tremendous loss. Senator Cantwell has spoken with both of the fallen soldier’s parents to convey her respect and deepest sympathies. Our office hopes that this error will not overshadow this bright young man’s service to our country nor cloud the respect Senator Cantwell has for the Collins family and her heartfelt sorrow for their loss.”

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