In a moving and personal speech on Monday, Kelly recounted the emotional journey each Gold Star family undergoes, beginning with the dreaded knock at the door from a military casualty assistance officer.
"The minute the door opened and a family member sees him framed in the doorway they know … they know without being told … before he uttered his first words … they knew," Kelly said, according to a draft of his prepared remarks.
Families then must wait as the military completes its formal process and sends the remains of their loved ones home from the battlefield. Through all of this — and forever — the pain of loss endures, Kelly said.
"Proud that by this one very personal decision — to serve a cause higher than themselves regardless of the outcome to them personally — their fallen loved one gave answer to two questions that have over the centuries defined the dedication of free and righteous men and women in the fight against wickedness: 'If not me, who? If not now, when?'" he said.
Kelly himself had visited many hospital beds of wounded troops and spoken to dozens of Gold Star families before he lost his own son, he said.
"I have been ... asked if it was worth the life of someone they brought into the world, raised and nurtured so lovingly, and so much looked forward to seeing grow and find wonderful husbands and wives, and give them grandchildren to spoil," he said. "...My sense then was it is inconceivable for anyone to understand that has not had his own heart pierced with such sadness. I learned I was right."
"So in spite of the terrible emptiness that is in a corner of my heart and I now know will be there until I see him again, and the corners of the hearts of everyone who ever knew him, we are proud … so very proud," Kelly said. "Was it worth his life? It's not for me to say. He answered the question for me."
Read all of Kelly's speech here.