Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Joel A. House dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

LEE — When Sgt. Joel House, 22, deployed to Iraq in November 2006, he worried he would never again see his aging 14-year-old dog, Seyda.

On Monday afternoon, Seyda paced around the House family’s front lawn, sniffing a memorial the family erected to honor their fallen soldier.

House, who was deployed with the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas, was killed Saturday by an improvised explosive devise in Taji, Iraq. House grew up in Lee, graduated from Lee Academy and planned to settle in the town after his time in the military.

"I don’t know how to explain what it’s like to lose a 22-year-old son; I just know God was ready to take him," said Paul House, 51, the soldier’s father. "He was a great testament to his peers, and the Lord wanted him."

Deanna House, 47, last spoke with her son on Thursday. As always, they talked about the arid Iraqi weather, the welfare of Joel’s brother, Luke, 27, and sister, Joy, 25, and the much-anticipated care packages filled with beef jerky, his father’s chocolate peanut butter fudge, and Joel’s favorite — Grandma’s peanut butter squares.

The last telephone conversation, though, was unlike any the Army mother had experienced during either of her son’s two deployments. She said her youngest child felt distant, and his thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.

"His voice was kind of flatlike," said Deanna House. "I think he knew what he was getting ready to face."

While Joel House was a quiet man, friends, family and members of the community often sought him when something needed to get done.

"He was a go-to guy," said his aunt Kathy Crise. "If anyone needed a dog watched, or someone to take care of their house while they were away, they would hand over their keys to Joel and never think twice about trusting him."

Paul House was overcome with emotion as he described the last father-son-hunting trip he took with Joel. He pointed to the mounted bear head on the wall, Joel’s trophy from that trip.

Then a smile crept across House’s face as he reminded the family of his son’s snappy humor. He said Joel had mastered the art of one-liners.

Before he had a chance to offer an example, his wife explained her son’s humor by displaying the gray long-sleeved T-shirt Joel wore home for his two-week leave in March. The shirt bore a cartoon drawing of a soldier in camouflage standing next to a Humvee. The yellow lettering read, "Who’s your Baghdaddy?"

Even after he was injured in a barracks bombing in March, Joel found a way to make his family laugh at the tragic incident that claimed the life of his best friend. After the attack, Joel snapped a photo of the rubble, his sleeping bag the focus of the frame. He posted the picture on the social network Web site MySpace and gave it the caption, "My sleeping bag got dirty."

Paul House, who runs his own outdoor guide business from home, said he would miss Joel the most when he visits their favorite hunting spots. His son loved hunting, fishing, playing the guitar and eating "camp food," he said. After his military service, Joel hoped to return home to help his dad and go to school to become a game warden, said Deanna House.

The grieving parents said they both supported their son’s decision to join the Army, and took pride in his efforts.

"It’s like when your kids first get their driver’s license," Paul House said, describing his emotions when Joel was deployed. "You are always scared."

On Saturday — Deanna House’s birthday — the couple’s worst fears were realized, as two Army representatives pulled into the driveway around 6:30 p.m. She had just returned home from a day trip to Belfast when the soldiers arrived. She said her birthday could never be the same after Saturday, and wished she could change the date.

Many family members spent hours at the well-known "painted rock" in Lincoln on Sunday to leave a final message to Joel. Community members have scrawled messages on the rock for decades, and on Monday, motorists passing by the marker found a wave of red, white and blue. Drivers bound for Lee on Route 6 could read the message: "Freedom Isn’t Free, Sgt. Joel House, U.S. Army, 11.21.84, 6.23.07." Motorists traveling in the other direction could see a large 22, the soldier’s age, and the note, "Fallen Hero, Joel H."

"This is the politics of motherhood," said Deanna House. "My son went to war and gave his life."

From the Bangor News