From left, Capt. Ben Cross’s brother, Ryan Cross, his mother, Valerie Cross, and his father, Robert Cross, along with other family members gather in front of Ben Cross’s casket as he is laid to rest. Ryan Cross told the Portland Press Herald that the family had not received a call or letter from President Donald Trump.
The brother of a U.S. Marine captain from Bethel who died during a training exercise in August said his family never received a phone call or a letter from the White House, another claim that undercuts President Trump’s assertion that he has reached out to all the families of fallen soldiers.
Benjamin Cross, a 2009 graduate of Telstar Regional High School, was one of three Americans killed when a military aircraft crashed into the sea off the east coast of Australia. Also killed were Cpl. Nathaniel Ordway, 21, of Sedgwick, Kansas, and Pfc. Ruben Velasco, 19, of Los Angeles.
Cross’ older brother, Ryan Cross, who is also a veteran, said he was offended by the president’s assertion this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.”
“I find it sickening that he is using fallen service members to score political points, especially when his claims of reaching out to every Gold Star family are completely false,” the older Cross said in a text message Thursday after the Portland Press Herald sought information about whether his family was called.
The ongoing debate started when Trump was asked during a news conference Monday about his slow response to the death of four Green Berets in Niger. Trump defended himself by saying that he calls or writes letters, often both, and said prior presidents had not done so – a claim that has since been proven false. He dug himself in deeper Tuesday, when it was alleged he spoke insensitively to the mother of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. Trump has refuted that claim and even said he had proof, although his press secretary acknowledged Wednesday that no tape recording of the call exists.
In addition to the family of Benjamin Cross, the only Mainer to die during the Trump administration, several families of Americans killed in action told the Washington Post this week that they have not heard from the president.
Ryan Cross said his family did receive calls from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, as well as letters from U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, but said he has no interest in getting a call from Trump now.
“Personally, I’d rather not hear from him given that I don’t believe he has any clue as to what service and sacrifice really mean, nor does he understand the gravity of what we as members of the armed forces, veterans and their families risk and have risked,” said Ryan Cross, a U.S. Army captain who served in Afghanistan in 2014. He left active duty on Aug. 1, less than a week before his brother died.
Benjamin Cross, 26, had dreamed of being a pilot from a young age, according to friends and family. He attended the Virginia Military Institute on a full scholarship after high school and spent time training and serving in Washington, D.C., Florida and Texas before being sent overseas with the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, stationed on Okinawa, in 2016.
Cross, a first lieutenant who was promoted posthumously to captain, was one of 26 personnel aboard an Osprey aircraft – a helicopter-airplane hybrid – that crashed while trying to land aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard. All but three of the crew members were rescued.
The crash remains under investigation.
Cross’ death was a shock to the small town of Bethel, particularly for his family and a close-knit group of friends.
He was laid to rest last month with full military honors at Riverside Cemetery.
This week, the local school board voted unanimously to name the Telstar Regional High School baseball and soccer fields in his honor. They will be called the “Captain Benjamin R. Cross Memorial Field.”