Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight years on

This morning broke nothing like the brilliant clear Tuesday of September 11, 2001. It's windy, with drenching rain and a damp chill in the New Jersey air.

A large part of me loves weather like this, especially if I can be out in it for a while. I'm not talking about driving (and I've got a fun little story about that. Maybe later), I'm talking about bundling up and going for a walk and feeling the water and wind, hearing rain pattering off the brim of my hat, and watching the trees toss and sway. Love it. (The poor dog, not so much, and for her sake I got out and back in as quickly as I could, once her business was done.)

It was a good way to start the day. I may go back out at lunchtime and take a proper walk. I'll be thinking of the fallen, however. I'll be thinking of the promise their day held as they woke to flawless blue skies and perfect temperatures, and got ready for their jobs, and planned their schedule. I'll think of everything they looked forward to when they got home, and for the rest of the week, and for the weeks and months following, left incomplete; the book on their lives abruptly shut, the pages unwritten.

I like to think that on a day like that, I would have taken advantage and gone for that walk. I never did, of course, but even without the attacks and the horror of it, I don't know that I would have. Heaven knows, plenty of splendid days have followed, and most of them, if I'm out at lunchtime it's to run an errand or grab a meal, having forgotten mine at home. I no longer live close enough to walk to work, either.

Today, I'm mindful of it.

Mr. Bingley reposted his tribute for his friends Sylvia and John; Sheila has done the same for Michael Pascuma. I hope that you will take the time to remember them, as well as Angela Houtz, whom I did not know but was privileged to memorialize for the 2996 Project. (And I see that I wrote "triubte" in the title. Brilliant, Shakespeare. Fixed now.) If you have the inclination, please consider a contribution to the memorial scholarship given each year in Angela's honor.

And in another, quieter tribute, please take the time to go through this list at the Judge Report. Robert N Going is posting information on the World War II dead from his hometown of Amsterdam, NY. They fell defending freedom. It needs our defense now. Even if all we can do is exercise it by speaking up about things - or about nothing in particular - then we should do that.

Our minds and our lives are yet our own, and today is perfect weather for showing so.

(the following is reposted from September 10, 2006)

On September 7, 2001, Angela Houtz joined her family in Ocean City, MD, to make holiday.

She had turned 27 the previous day, but work had prevented her from arriving sooner. Angela worked as a senior analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence. On her birthday she had still been aboard the USS DeWert; the next day she made her way back north from Florida and arrived in time for the celebration.

Her uncle, Sheriff Frederick Davis, was taking office as President of the Maryland Sheriff's Association that weekend, so there was a lot to celebrate. The family spent the weekend; at her birthday, Angela, as was traditional, wore the family Birthday Hat while she opened her gifts.

Come Monday, she was back at work at the Pentagon. Intelligent and dedicated, in nine short years she had progressed from salutatorian of Maurice McDonough High School, to an English degree from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, to her civilian work in the Navy. Like thousands of others on the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, she was at work when the word came through: first one, and then the other of the towers of the World Trade Center had been struck with airliners.

At the Pentagon, everything changed. Angela joined a meeting in the C-ring with several officials, other analysts, and military officers. They were still there when American Airlines flight 77 skimmed across the lawn and into their wing of the building. She joined many others - financiers, insurers, staff, the cooks and busboys of Windows on the World, the airline crews, firefighters and police and military - suddenly killed while simply about their business; but her business consisted of understanding the nature of the attack and helping to organize a response. Angela Houtz was among the very first to fall in defense of the United States in the current conflict.

She received full honors: a military funeral, the Distinguished Civilian Award of Merit, and a letter of condolence from President Bush; more importantly, an outpouring of the great respect and love from everyone who had known her. In an article for VOA News, Commander David Radi spoke about this respect:

“It’s a bond that approaches a brother or sister and although Angie was a civilian, she was a shipmate to us. I was proud to call her that. The way she shined. I put her eventually in a position where we had never had a civilian. It was because the trust I had in her; but more importantly, the more senior people in the Navy had in her. She would stand a watch in the off hours in particular. She would be the eyes and ears of the Navy in our command center. And there could be no better forerunner for that in the civilian world of Naval Intelligence than Angela Houtz.”
The service took six hours. If that had been all that there was to the affair, it would certainly be enough, but her father, Robert Houtz, speaking to the Boothbay Register, told of more: "Angie had had two full-time jobs, one for humanity and one for her country."

Many remember her now for her life for the country, but those who love her remember her other life: an active young woman, working with her own church and the Salvation Army for homeless relief; a lover of puns, a tutor of children; a joy to her family and friends. She was equally at home taking classes in dance or organizing food drives. And her finest tribute comes directly from Mrs. Julie Shontere, her mother:

“Most important in her life, above all else, was her faith in God. ... She gave so much to us all. She continues to teach me through her journals and spirit. ... I feel blessed beyond words to have had the honor to be her mom.”
Cmdr. Radi made a point to mention her faith in connection with the position of trust she had earned among the Naval staff; even people who had barely known her were dearly touched by Angela. Amy Moffitt of Washington DC met Angela only twice, and said: “She lived really vividly in everything. She was very present, she was very alive. ... There was not a person she met who didn’t go, ‘Wow,’ that was awakened by her presence, because she was so awake, so alive, so there.” All of the quotes about Angela in the sources below reveal the same compassion and the same vitality.

It is just and right to remember and to memorialize the loss that so many shared that day; but it is incomplete unless we can also celebrate the lives that were left behind. Angela Houtz gave joy and dedication that long outlive the events of one September afternoon. Her service to country did not end at the doors of the Pentagon. It is an honor to be recogized at your funeral by a president for your work; it is also honor to be recognized on a concert line by a passing homeless man for your generosity and mercy. Many hunger after the one sort of honor, but the other can only be given to those who pour themselves out in service, who give cheerfully of whatever they have, be it time, money, toil, or just a smile for a sad friend.

In celebrating Angela's life, we celebrate a woman who knew that joy only grows when you give it away. The lasting image to recall is of her happy family, laughing and snapping pictures of Angela in the Birthday Hat, unwrapping gifts - it is of they that she would be thinking of, and it is altogether fitting to respect her wishes and think of them as well. Today is but the anniversary of one moment; the full life of Angela Houtz endures beyond it, and defeats it. That life is real and lasting, and it abides through the many people she loved to the full.

My deepest thanks to Mrs. Julie Shontere, who was kind enough to provide much of the above information first-hand; and also to the following sources:

The Chicago Tribune, for this remembrance
The UMBC Alumni Newsletter, Summer 2002, for this profile
The Boothbay Register, October 4, 2001, for this article by Duey Graham
The VOA News, October 22, 2001, for this article by Betty van Etten
The Maryland State Archives
The Defend America Network
The September 11 Victim's Memorial

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