The parents of Kennedy Sanders, one of the three U.S. soldiers killed in a drone strike carried out in Jordan on Saturday, burst into tears during a heart-wrenching phone call with President Joe Biden on Tuesday, video recorded by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed.
Biden told the 24-year-old’s parents, Oneida and Shawn Sanders, that he’d arranged for their daughter to be posthumously promoted from specialist to a U.S. Army sergeant.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard today,” Oneida Sanders said through tears. “You don’t know how much that means to us.”
Biden began the approximately 6-minute call by acknowledging that there’s “nothing anybody can say or do to ease the pain.” He added that he’s “been there,” referring to the sudden death of his wife and 13-month-old daughter when a tractor-trailer crashed into their car in 1972.
“I just want you to know that you’re in my prayers, my heart,” Biden said.
He later called on his own experience with grief, telling the parents that one day—after a “hell of a lot of time”—they’ll be able to “smile before you cry” when passing a park Kennedy used to play in or smelling something that reminds them of her.
“That’s when you know you’re going to make it,” he said.
Oneida Sanders expressed her appreciation for Biden sharing his own experience, saying, “We just thank you so much for your words of comfort, especially from a parent who’s experienced it. And you know if you’ve made it through I know that you know we can make it through as well.”
The president also acknowledged that the Sanders didn’t want reporters to attend the return of their daughter’s body, but asked for their permission to attend himself and invited them to one day visit him at the White House. The Sanders responded that they’d love for him to attend their daughter’s return stateside, saying it’d “be an honor.”
Logan Shubert, a childhood friend of Sanders who grew up with her in Waycross, Georgia, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Sanders was “tough as nails,” even as a kid. He recalled a time during a 10-and-under softball tournament when a fly ball once chipped her tooth. He said that Sanders got her tooth fixed ASAP and was ready to play in time for the next game.
“When I say she was scrappy, I mean she was tough as nails although she was the smallest on the team,” he said. “She was fearless.”
Also killed in the drone strike were Breonna Moffett, a 23-year-old specialist, and 46-year-old William Rivers, a sergeant. All three soldiers were from Georgia, and had been overseas since last fall.
Biden announced previously that the U.S. planned to retaliate against the attack, but some Republicans, like Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), criticized the president for not responding with force quick enough.
Authorities said the attack was carried out by Kataib Hezbollah, a terrorist group that has the backing of Iran. The White House announced Tuesday that Biden has decided how to respond to the attack, but didn’t divulge specifics.
Kataib Hezbollah announced Tuesday that it was suspending all operations against U.S. troops, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing a statement. It’s unclear if that announcement will have an impact on Biden’s supposed retaliatory strike that is planned.