Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

This has been a tough week for all of us. First the heartbreaking images from the Boston Marathon on Monday and then last night and today the death of one perpetrator and the capture of the other. Monday’s blast not only shattered the world around the marathon’s finish line, it shook all of us to our emotional core. How to believe in the essential goodness of humanity in the face of three young lives extinguished in seconds and hundreds maimed and injured? This is the place where we want to shake our fists at God and demand, “Are You There?”

The heroes who step forward in times like these are the ones who bring us redemption. Because they are willing to be selfless in the face of danger and even death, they let us go on believing that the essence of life is goodness and love. Boston and the sight of so many law enforcement officers, as well as civilians, stepping forward as heroes reminds me of a hero whom I never met and who died when I was two years younger than Martin Richard, but whose story has become an important part of my family lore. In the family I grew up in, the word “Boston” is synonymous with “Dick Horan.” Here’s why.

My father was an FBI agent. He was a very good FBI agent. That meant when something happened in the world – like Boston on Monday – our phone would ring in the middle of the night, and he would be whisked away on “indefinite assignment.” We never knew when he would be back. And once in a great while we would also admit the awful corollary: we never knew if he would be back – although it is exceedingly rare for an agent to be killed in the line of duty.

On January 17, 1950, a gang led by Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis and Joseph “Spec” O’Keefe robbed the Brinks bank on the north end of Prince Street and Commercial Street in Boston. They arrived in Brinks’ guard uniforms and masks, went to the trouble of duplicating the bank’s keys, and made off with $1,218,211.29 in cash, and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. They divided an initial cut of the loot and put the rest away to wait for the six-year statute of limitations to run while they squabbled and fell out with each other. The FBI investigated the Great Brinks Robbery for many years and finally made arrests in January 12, 1956, just five days before the statute of limitations expired.

But my father had no inkling of that outcome when he got “the call” late one night in the winter of 1951. I was heading toward my second birthday in the coming August, and my mother was pregnant. In the 1950’s married women had children because everyone expected them to. But a more unmaternal person was never born than my mother. So she was not delighted to be left alone, although she knew it came with the territory of being my father’s wife.

Six months later, my father was still in Boston and had no idea when he would be back. It was hot, hot, southern summer in Tennessee; and my mother was uncomfortably pregnant and stuck with me, the charming child who neither napped nor slept. One particularly miserable day in mid-July, a scruffy man came to the door and asked to borrow the ladder he had seen in our open garage. Now, of course, my law enforcement wife mother should have known not to leave the door open or to say yes; but we were home, and it was hot, and she did. The man used the ladder, put it back, and then returned in the wee hours of the night and broke into garage.

Nearly eight months pregnant, my terrified mother summoned the police, who responded at once and frightened the man away. Later, Mother speculated he had seen the country ham she had brought from her father’s farm and the jars of canned goods my grandmother hand contributed and had returned to steal the food.

Calls to my father in Boston did not produce his return. I’m not sure if she asked him to come home, but I bet she did. However, the Bureau was not going to yank a top agent from a special assignment because of a domestic burglary.

Then, a week later, the doctor informed my mother my sister was going to be a breech birth. Now she really burned up the phone lines to Boston.

FBI agents work in pairs. My father’s partner was an agent named Dick Horan, then of the Boston office. Although my father did not strike up many friendships, he and Dick hit it off. That night after my mother’s call, Dick could tell my father was upset, and he insisted the two go to a movie. Now, my father hated two things in the world: sweets and movies. But he went because Dick insisted and eventually told him about my mother’s call.

In the family legend, it is Dick who went to the Special Agent in Charge and asked for the Bureau to send my father home. I suspect that is true, since I can’t picture my father, hat in hand, asking to leave. But not long after Dick dragged Dad to the movies, the SAC called him into his office and told him he was going home. To this day, I remember (and I was less than two mind you) going to the airport to get him that hot July afternoon in my best dress and hair bow. Then a few weeks after his return, my ever fickle sister turned herself around and was born head first.

On April 18, 1957, Dick Horan was killed by a fugitive on parole whom he and a team of agents were trying to arrest in Suffield, Connecticut. The rest of the agents went to the back door of the house. As Dick went down the basement steps alone, Francis Kolakowski shot him to death. I was just shy of my seventh birthday. After that, my father was ever-bitter about the subject of parole and would tell Dick’s story if the word was spoken in his presence. Understandable.

So, you see, heroes live on. I cannot count the nights my father sat around the dinner table, and in the tradition of true Southern storytellers, told Dick’s story. And today, all these years later, I am telling it to you. In the same way, night after night, someone will tell the stories of the heroes of Boston. And they, like Dick, will live in the lore of uncounted families from generation to generation. I never met Dick Horan, but I always felt as if I had. He meant a lot to my dad, who was close to few people in his life. Dick was a good man and a hero. And this week, the good men and women of Boston became heroes and redeemed us all. They gave us the hope and the courage to believe that evil is the exception and goodness is the rule.

Richard P. Horan, a hero

Richard P. Horan, a hero

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