Elizabeth Warren’s oldest brother, Donald Reed Herring, died on Tuesday night in Oklahoma, three weeks after testing positive for coronavirus. He was 86.
Warren personally announced the news on Twitter on Thursday morning. She wrote, “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.”
She added, “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.”
Warren’s Tweet was the first to mention that a member of her family had been battling COVID-19. In a statement to the Boston Globe, she wrote, “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. I will miss my brother.”
He Was Hospitalized With Pneumonia in February
According to the Globe, Herring was a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He attended the University of Oklahoma and, before graduating, enlisted in the Air Force. In total, Reed flew 288 combat missions in Vietnam.
In February, he was hospitalized for pneumonia. Years prior, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment.
According to the Globe, Herring was moved to intensive care at Norman Regional Hospital on April 15. He died on April 21.
Warren’s three older brothers — Don, John, and David — all lived (and the latter two continue to live) quiet lives in Oklahoma, where Warren grew up. When the Boston Globe visited Oklahoma in early 2020 in an attempt to interview Herring, he “declined to comment.”
Around that time, a poll showed almost a third of Warren’s supporters as believing that her ability to lead the military was a weakness. According to The Washington Examiner, Warren’s response was, “You know, I have three brothers who are in the military, and I know how much our military families sacrifice.”
She continued, “I believe the principal job of the commander in chief is to keep America safe. And I think that’s about judgment. I think it starts with knowing our military. I sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. I work with our generals, with our military leaders, with our intelligence, but I also visit our troops.”
In a separate interview, Warren expressed that while she invited all three of her brothers to be more active in her campaign, they felt “it is not their world.”
In January, Warren did release an ad featuring her three brothers (shown above). In the spot, two of the three men said they planned on voting for their sister — Herring does not mention whether or not he would vote for Warren. Not long after the ad’s release, Mediaite reported, “… Don Reed Herring — the oldest — doesn’t speak about his sister at all in the ad, and is only heard reminiscing with his siblings.”
He Attended the University of Oklahoma for One Year Before Joining the Air Force
Warren was just a toddler when her brother enrolled in the military and left Oklahoma. Warren is quoted as saying, “I got to know Don Reed much more through what his absence meant to my mother and daddy.”
Herring flew B-47 and B-52 bombers in combat missions in Vietnam. He eventually became a B-52 squadron pilot and aircraft commander, according to the Globe. Over the course of his career in the military, Herring earned decorations such as the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and an Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters.
His triumphs, however, did not come without heartache. Warren has mentioned that all three brothers lost their wives. “All three of my brothers were widowers. I watched it firsthand, how hard it is to lose your life’s partner. And how the financial impact of a long and serious medical battle can just crush a person.” Herring’s first wife died from leukemia after 27 years of marriage.
Herring is survived by his wife, Judith Anne Hart, and two sons, John and Jeffrey.