The job, duties and responsibilities of the President of the United States are called out in the U. S. Constitution. They do not include the awarding of medals or the comforting of loved ones in the event of their unfortunate death in war or peace.
If this was a requirement, the President would have had to make over 60,000 phone calls to parents of those killed in Viet Nam and would have had time to do nothing else in World War II.
Could the President make a private phone call if he wanted to? No. Those who received it would be under no obligation to not report they got a call from the President but, who would not brag they did. On the other hand, the President’s phone conversations, if not recorded, are noted by someone as a part of the daily activity undertaken by the Chief of State.
During the course of our history, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award has been awarded fewer than 400 times. Most of these have been awarded posthumously so there was no recipient to honor at an awards ceremony save the next of kin. Thousands of lesser medals have been awarded to those who survived with no more pomp than an assembly of one’s unit or division and the medal given by the highest-ranking officer of that unit or division. When it is awarded well after the fact as happens when the citation gets caught up in the bureaucracy for one reason or another, you can rest assured some politician will step forward to participate in the public presentation.
That leads one to believe, like the photo-op, those making the award wish to be acknowledged as well as the recipient; like Bill Clinton awarding the Purple Heart to two soldiers who were captured in the Bosnian conflict and roughed up by their captors. It is no different than being seen as empathetic to the survivors of those killed in combat. Such acts by a President cannot go unnoticed and one can only speculate as to whether such empathy is sincere or expressed to gain favor by appearing compassionate.
In 2107, 5 servicemen stationed at Fort Riley have died in non-combat related incidents, many more are killed in training accidents and the actual total will probably exceed those killed in actual combat. These men died while serving their country irrespective of the fact they didn’t get the opportunity to die in combat. Do their survivors warrant a phone call from the President?
John McCain survived the prison camps in Vietnam as did hundreds of others. He was no more a hero than his comrades or the hundreds who survived the Japanese and German prison camps of World War II. He was singled out because his father was a senior officer in the Navy and eyed by the Republicans as a potential high-ranking politician. Al Gore was another, though his fame had to be manufactured.
It is now difficult for a President to avoid getting entrapped into perpetuating this symbolism, because he will be criticized for not doing so. While getting caught up in this symbolism, he must divert time to perform the job for which he was hired and maybe that is a good thing, since the things he is doing and trying to do are not in his job description. Needless to say, other countries; such as England and Germany have a Queen or a President who is charged to engage in symbolism so as to leave the politicians to their work.