Thursday, July 05, 2007

Joel House laid to rest

LEE - Tall, broad-shouldered and commanding, U.S. Army First Sgt. Steven Burke would rather bark orders than ask favors. But about 10 weeks before his first deployment to Iraq, he broke his left leg.

That changed everything.

For the next three months, the 46-year-old found himself in a humiliating position — forced to rely upon others for the simplest things.

That’s when Sgt. Joel House and several other soldiers within Burke’s 1st Cavalry Division headquarters company became "my designated unofficial baby sitters."

In a war zone, with millions of details and duties to attend to, the 22-year-old House and his cohorts became Burke’s legs. They were so good at their own jobs, Burke said — and so devoted to helping him with his — that they earned themselves a wry nickname.

"They were my hooligans," Burke said.

Burke’s recollections of the gentle, sturdy, responsible Joel House brought tears to his eyes during House’s funeral Tuesday. House was killed June 23 by a bomb 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.

About 550 people, including Gov. John Baldacci, the entire state congressional delegation and an honor guard, crowded the school’s gymnasium for the 1½-hour service. Burial at Woodlawn Cemetery followed. U.S. and Maine flags flew at half-staff in House’s honor until sunset on Tuesday.

Baldacci and Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of Maine’s National Guard, presented a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart to House’s parents, Paul and Deanna House.

Asked to speak by the House family, Baldacci quoted Maine Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain and said that, like Chamberlain, House’s clan belongs among the distinguished state families who have sacrificed so much for freedom.

"I am certain of their strength and their courage during what must be one of the worst times in their lives. They are an incredible family, deeply proud of their son and the person he grew up to be," Baldacci said. "They join too many other families who have given more than anyone should have to bear.

"We mourn Joel’s loss, but our world is forever changed for the better because he was in it," Baldacci said.

Libby, Joel House’s uncle Army Sgt. Phillip Carey, U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, Paul House and Joel House’s older brother Luke praised House for his heroism, modesty and dedication to the Army, his country and freedom.

They described him as a deeply religious man who was devoted to the U.S. mission in Iraq and said that he died living up to his ideals.

"Wars are as old as history, and it has often been said that in peace, sons bury their fathers and in war, fathers bury their sons," Carey said. "And we have come today to bury a soldier, a son, with dreams not lived and potential unfulfilled, a hero and a member of an army, like Chamberlain’s, also out to set other men free.

"If death is a debt that we must all pay, Joel paid before he owed it," Carey said.

Not all the remembrances were solemn. Burke evoked laughter when he told how House brought much-needed relief from the 120-degree desert heat by sharing the Popsicles his parents mailed him.

Burke said that House’s toughness and taciturnity masked a frisky sense of humor.

"You knew that if you turned your back on him, something bad was going to happen," Burke said.

"He was never much fun to pick on growing up because you never got much of a reaction out of him," Luke House said. "He had a kind of multipurpose frown, and you had to read between the lines to see what the emotion of the day was."

House’s humility and humor were never more apparent than after the Army recognized him for his outstanding physical fitness, his brother said.

"He said that he only received those awards because everybody else at basic training was slow," House said.

"He was very humble. I don’t ever recall him bragging about himself, even though he was a very gifted athlete."

Paul House told mourners that he imagined his son’s transition from a bloody battle in this world to the sublime peace of the next as a gradual and soothing realization.

"As you marched onward in battle, you noticed that your helmet feels weightless and that your armored vest feels like an angel took it off your shoulders," House said. "You no longer hear the sound of gunfire and bombs. The hot sun is no longer beating on your weary body. You then look down at your feet and notice that the dust you were walking in has turned to gold."

House imagined his son being welcomed into Heaven by Jesus with "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You are safe with me at last. You have fulfilled your mission in life and will be at peace with me for eternity."

From the Bangor Daily News

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