Mass. urged to honor Navy SEAL Kevin Houston
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
BOSTON – Before he was ever deployed overseas, Kevin Houston found his first missions at home in Barnstable.
His mother, Janette Anderson, still remembers floating in a raft one dark night, the water illuminated only by yachts moored nearby and lights from the parking lot, when a head popped up like a seal. Just as she reached for a paddle, she saw the face of her oldest son with a knife clenched between his teeth.
"He was 13 years old," Anderson recounted Thursday. "And I was like, 'Kevin, what are you doing?'"
Houston told his mother he was "practicing." He had already told her as a fifth-grader, long before his 1994 graduation from Barnstable High School, that he would be a Navy SEAL.
On Thursday, Anderson traveled to the Statehouse from her current home in Chesapeake, Va., to tell the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation about the boy who went from growing up running around Hyannis to giving his life in Afghanistan while living his dream.
In heartfelt testimony, she urged legislators to pass a bill that would dedicate the Route 6 overpass that spans Route 132 as the U.S. Navy SEAL Kevin A. Houston Veterans Memorial.
"I would so appreciate it if you passed this bill," she said in her testimony. "All of Hyannis knows and loves Kevin. They helped me raise him."
Around the time he was on his Hyannis missions, Houston was also playing football on the Barnstable Silver Bullets with a boy named Brian Mannal. It was during their playing days when Houston and his mother came to know the American flag towering over Exit 6 as a sign that they were close to home.
Mannal, now a freshman state representative, said Thursday that he wanted to make that place the home of a memorial for his childhood friend.
"When I took office in January, I set out on the mission that, if I was going to do one thing and pass one bill in the Legislature, it was going to be this bill," he told the committee.
The Barnstable Democrat began his testimony with a brief account of the early morning of Aug. 6, 2011, when Houston and 37 other men were en route to reinforce a unit of U.S. Army Rangers in a firefight with Taliban forces. Before they could arrive, their helicopter was shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade over a remote mountain region west of Kabul.
Houston was 35, leaving behind his mother, his wife, two children and "a community of friends in the town of Barnstable who mourned his death, and respected and admired him for his commitment to protecting our nation," Mannal said.
Mannal modeled his legislation after the bill that dedicated the North Dennis Road overpass in Yarmouth between exits 8 and 9 in honor of Nicholas Xiarhos, a Marine who died July 23, 2009, from wounds suffered in a roadside bombing while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan. Houston's family and Xiarhos' father, Yarmouth Deputy Police Chief Steven Xiarhos, approached Mannal with the idea of dedicating the Route 6 overpass to the fallen Navy SEAL.
Xiarhos, an outspoken supporter of military families, supported Mannal's bill in a letter addressed to state Sen. Thomas McGee and state Rep. William Straus, the transportation committee's co-chairmen.
"As the proud Gold Star father of a fallen United States Marine, I know the deep, dark pain and struggles of the loss of a child who has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country," he wrote. "It is something I hope no more families ever have to endure. But I also know the intense pride of seeing your loved one's name on a simple but beautiful sign on a Massachusetts bridge in his hometown."
Straus could hear that pain in Anderson's voice during her testimony. "I know this wasn't easy," Straus told her. "What little we can do, we will, to help keep his memory with you."