25 January 2008


I went to the funeral of a client today. We were not well-acquainted, as the relationship was fairly recent, but I thought it important that I go. Aside from the professional obligation, I love history. Funerals are a fascinating way of understanding individual histories, often unsung histories. It is an opportunity for family and friend to remember the good and great about the loved one who has passed. For most of us, these are fleeting memorials. Understandably, there will not be plaques or statues enumerating our great deeds, at least not outside of the family album. Sometimes, as when death comes by way of selfless heroism, permanent monuments are appropriate.

Have any of you heard of Frankie Housley? Although I may have heard the name, the circumstances of her life were a mystery until I read this remembrance in the Knoxville weekly Metro Pulse (via Instapundit). Housley, a stewardess, perished heroically while trying to save an infant after a plane crash. She had already pushed and prodded 10 passengers to safety. Just reading this excerpt has left an indelible mark in my memory:

She opened the emergency door and looked down at an eight-foot drop to the ground. One after another, she escorted passengers to the opening. To those who resisted the jump, which was like leaping off a garage roof, she offered a firm shove.
She got 10 passengers out that way. Among them were soldiers, sailors, and young mother Manuela Smith and her two-year-old daughter. But Smith’s infant, Brenda Joyce, was still in the plane. Frankie went back in, one more time, but this time she didn’t emerge.
When the fire was out, they found Frankie in the scorched fuselage with the baby in her arms.

It is at once tragic and inspiring. Memorials were planned and promised. Those that were established have perished with the structures they inhabited. Others never came to fruition. It is clear that she should not be forgotten.

She is not alone. Several years ago I read the book, Black Hawk Down. It chronicles the famous incident where U.S. servicemen in Somalia were forced to work in the worst possible conditions. There are tremendous examples of heroism in those events. The legacy of Mogadishu is not an entirely proud one, but the individual heroes should not be forgotten.

I look forward to learning about more of the heroes in our current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. I look forward to learning about heroes who have come and gone during so many of our nation's turbulent times.

I will also look forward to those quiet services, where I will continue to learn about the men and women that I thought I knew. For a brief moment, their monuments will be clear. I hope to keep them a part of my mind, and a part of my history.

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