Meet the Press   |  December 22, 2013

2: Inhofe opens up on son's death

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, an avid pilot, recently lost his son to a plane crash. He sits down with David Gregory to share his story.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> time on capitol hill to report about the latest political crisis or some hot issue up there, but this week i was in the senate office building for a very different reason. last month oklahoma senator jim inhofe faced an unspeakable tragedy. his son perry , 52 years old, died in a plane crash . senator inhofe hasn't spoken publicly about it until now. as he prepares to gather with family for the holidays, he wanted to share his story. for senator jim inhofe , politics is his life. but flying is his passion. he got his pilot license as a young man, and around oklahoma, he is known to fly himself to campaign events. that skill, he says, got him into the u.s. senate .

>> back in 1994 , i was running in a race that i was 32 points behind, but i was everywhere. i would get into one of my planes and i could be from the panhandle down to southeastern oklahoma in a matter of two hours, and it took my opponent about seven hours to do the same thing.

>> reporter: a love passed down to his two sons, perry and jimmy who, every year, made the trip with their father to the famed oshkosh air show . but last month, a family tradition turned tragic. perry inhofe crashed while flying a twin engine plane outside tulsa. he was one day short of his 52nd birthday.

>> on final approach into tulsa international airport , runway 18 left. we don't know certain things, an engine that was down, but the last communication was garbled, so we don't know if it shut down or if he shut it down. that would make a difference in what happened. he knew it was going down. he avoided an area with houses and people and went into a wooded area. that's perry .

>> he had a lot of training, just like you.

>> he had a lot more training than me. my other son and i are not quite as meticulous as perry has always been about flying by the numbers, doing everything right. he was 100%.

>> i have young kids. i've got an 11-year-old and 8-year-old twins, and i think like any parent, you worry about them hurting themselves or, god forbid , them losing their lives. and perry was a grown man with a family of his own, but you have to be thinking like a young father, too, about this is your boy. how are you doing with that?

>> it's something that you don't understand until it happens. i can remember so many friends of mine who have lost their kids, and you don't know what to say. you can't say, i know how you feel because you don't know. now i know. and i have no doubt that perry and i are going to be together again.

>> you have a strong faith.

>> well, it's not just strong faith. it goes beyond just getting back as far as jesus. some of the listeners out there might want to look up 2nd samuel 1 12:23 . this same thing happened to david. he said, i won't be coming back here but i will see you again. and i have no doubt about that.

>> and it gives you enormous comfort?

>> it does. it makes me kind of look forward to it.

>> we talk about washington in terms of losing personal relationships, keeping relationships from getting forged, but when you go through this particular loss, you recognize you have some support around you. talk a little about that.

>> well, i probably shouldn't say this, but i seem to have gotten more communications from some of my democrat friends and i'm pretty partisan republican. something like this happens, and all of a sudden the old barriers that were there, those old differences that keep us apart just disappear. because it's not just a recognition that i know how much more important that is, but they do, too. and they look out and they realize that you've lost someone . and that brings us closer together.

>> even your relationship with majority leader harry reid , right?

>> yeah. i know we just disagree on all this stuff, this political stuff, but you don't change in terms of your positions and what you believe in, but you change in your understanding of individuals.

>> is there some perspective that you gain from this kind of loss, this kind of hurt that makes you think about the approach to your work here in washington? do you think some of what you feel changing around people comforting you through loss is something you can bring to your work?

>> well, it is, except the differences are still there. i mean, right now the last bill of this session is my bill. it's the national defense authorization act . there are people i serve with who don't really think you need a strong military. so those defined differences, they don't change. but your attitude changes. and i can't help but think when i'm confronting someone on something with which we disagree that i know what -- how they responded to my loss.

>> and as a grieving father, what's your biggest challenge as you look ahead to the next year?

>> you know, when you have, as i described our family as 20 kids and grandkids, counting spouses, you miss one and it's not whole anymore. and so that's still will probably always be a difficult thing to face up to. it's a reality. and you think about those things that perry did that nobody else does, and that's the thing that, you know, that will be missed.

>> senator jim inhofe reflecting about the loss of his son. i have a couple reactions of this with the group that's still here. one, as a person of faith, i'm always impressed by someone, and he wanted to talk about his son because we all seek to elevate loss like this at a time of loss, ask i thougnd i thought he did that so eloquently. but as a political figure, it's sad it's come to this, that as an element of surprise at a moment like this, that he's surprised his democratic colleagues are there to support him that way. did that strike you?

>> this story cut very deep for me. i lost a brother, and i know what he's talking about when he says the family will never be whole again. i just want to take politics out of it, and i want to say that there is a lot of families right now in america who are not whole, who have lost somebody, and particularly the first holiday season is incredibly difficult. so let's keep them in our thoughts. let's keep them in our prayers.

>> well said. we'll take a break here and come back. we'll talk more about politics, more about the president's leadership this year as he looks ahead to 2014 and whether there are other glimmers of hope, a chance for politicians to meet in the middle on some topics. you can