Trump honors fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, annoys critics with joke about applause

In the most emotional moment of the night, President Donald Trump in his joint address to Congress on Tuesday honored the U.S. Navy SEAL who died late last month during a now-controversial military raid in Yemen.

“We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens,” Trump said to heartfelt applause. “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero—battling against terrorism and securing our Nation.”

Owens was killed on Jan. 29 during a U.S. special forces raid against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the faction of the terrorist group in Yemen and surrounding areas. He was 36 years old.

Trump continued with what he said was a quote from Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis that counters earlier reports that the raid, in which 29 civilians including nine children were also killed, resulted in no new intelligence.

“I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy.’ Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you,” Trump said. 

The crowd then honored Owens’ widow with a lengthy standing ovation. 

Trump responded to the applause for Owens with the largest off-script comment of the night: “Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy, because you know what? I think he just broke a record,” Trump said. The crowd laughed. 

The joke about Owens being “very happy” about the applause sparked ire in some of Trump’s critics, who found the joke disrespectful. 

The negative response to Trump was by no means universal, however, and many Twitter users, who also tweeted pro-military messages, appeared to embrace the sentiment.

Trump’s response to the Yemen raid has become a flashpoint as new details have emerged. In an interview that aired on Fox News earlier on Tuesday, Trump appeared to blame military leadership for Owens’ death. 

“This was something that was, you know, just— they wanted to do,” Trump said. “And they came to see me, and they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected.”

“And they lost Ryan,” Trump added.

Overall, Trump’s speech garnered instant praise from both supporters and critics who recognized the address as the most “presidential” moment of the nascent Trump presidency. Whether it changes the entire conversation around the controversial commander-in-chief remains the key question as we head into the next phase of this administration.

Andrew Couts

Andrew Couts

Andrew Couts is the former editor of Layer 8, a section dedicated to the intersection of the Internet and the state—and the gaps in between. Prior to the Daily Dot, Couts served as features editor and features writer for Digital Trends, associate editor of, and associate editor at Maxim magazine. When he’s not working, Couts can be found hiking with his German shepherds or blasting around on motorcycles.