Senator Elizabeth Warren announced on April 23 that her eldest brother, Donald Reed Herring, had sadly died after a two-week battle with COVID-19. Known better as Don Reed, he was 86 and left behind a loving family. The Massachusetts senator spoke fondly of her brother in a series of tweets, calling Herring “charming and funny, a natural leader.” Warren told The Boston Globe, “My oldest brother, Don Reed, died from coronavirus on Tuesday evening. He joined the Air Force at 19 and spent his career in the military, including five and a half years off and on in combat in Vietnam. He was charming and funny, a natural leader. What made him extra special was his smile — quick and crooked, it always seemed to generate its own light, one that lit up everyone around him.
“I’m grateful to the nurses and other front-line staff who took care of my brother, but it is hard to know that there was no family to hold his hand or to say ‘I love you’ one more time. And now there’s no funeral for those of us who loved him to hold each other close,” Warren said. “I will miss my brother.” Here’s five facts you should know about the life and legacy of Donald Reed Herring:
1. He was a 20-year United States Air Force veteran. Herring enlisted in the Air Force, where he flew B-47 and B-52 bombers, while studying at the University of Oklahoma. He flew 288 combat missions during the Vietnam War, and went on to become a B-52 squadron pilot and squadron aircraft commander, according to The Boston Globe. He retired from the military in 1973 as a decorated lieutenant colonel. Herring was 16 years older than Warren, who was just a toddler when he left home for the military. “My first memory of Don Reed was when he left for the service and then of his wedding,” Warren wrote in her autobiography. “He was adventurous and dashing, and his very existence was like a distant light.”
2. He was a Republican, but supported Warren’s presidential campaign. Though a member of the opposing party, Herring agreed with parts of his sister’s 2020 platform. He even appeared in one of her campaign ads with their other brothers, John Herring and David Herring. Warren spoke frequently about her brothers on the campaign trail. “”Now, all three of my older brothers went off and joined the military,” Warren said at a September 2019 rally in South Carolina. “They didn’t graduate from college, this was their path to America’s middle class. My oldest brother Don Reed, he was career military. He spent about five and a half years off and on in combat in Vietnam. We were lucky to get him back home, yes, we were.”
My oldest brother, Don Reed, died from coronavirus on Tuesday evening. He joined the Air Force at 19 and spent his career in the military, including five and a half years off and on in combat in Vietnam. He was charming and funny, a natural leader. https://t.co/b8m0xKzAmM
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 23, 2020
3. He survived cancer in the past. Herring, according to his family, was diagnosed with an unspecified cancer “years ago,” and had successfully undergone treatment. He had been hospitalized with pneumonia in February 2020, then sent to a rehabilitation center to recover. He apparently contracted the coronavirus at the in-patient facility, where other patients had reportedly had the virus. He was moved to the intensive care unit of a nearby hospital on April 15, where he died six days later.
4. Warren called out President Donald Trump the day after Herring’s death. Warren joined other senators, including Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on April 22 in demanding an investigation into Trump’s fumbling of the coronavirus pandemic response. “Trump shouldn’t be using his 2020 electoral map to make life-or-death decisions & distributing medical supplies based on which friends & allies need a favor,” she wrote on Twitter.
5. He leaves behind a large and loving family. Along with Warren and their brothers, Herring also leaves behind his wife, Judith Anne Hart, and two sons, John and Jeffrey. Herring’s first wife, Nancy McKelvain, died in 1982 of leukemia after 27 years of marriage.