There may be much attention paid, and justly deserved, this Father's Day to the extraordinary September 11 heroes of the New York police and fire departments, to the heroes of Flight 93, and to the scores of brave young soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the War on Terror. I join in honoring them all, and in keeping their families in continued prayers.
But this little space is reserved today for one of the forgotten fathers who died last fall at the hands of a still-unidentified terrorist attacker or attackers. His name was Thomas Morris Jr. I have no personal connection to him whatsoever, but his story touched me deeply, and his unsolved murder still enrages me.
For 55 years, Mr. Morris lived an ordinary life -- the kind that doesn't make the nightly news or talk radio. The kind that doesn't get attention from Congress or Hollywood celebrities. The kind that most dads lead: decent, dedicated and quiet. Mr. Morris, according to his friends and family, was a private, humble and hard-working man. He served in the Air Force decades ago. And in 1973, he took a job that he held until October 2001.
Mr. Morris worked for the U.S. Postal Service.
He unloaded mail trucks and sorted letters and packages at the Brentwood plant in Washington, D.C. It was not a glamorous job. It was honest work. He showed up every morning with his lunch packed in a brown paper bag. He never took a sick day. An official with his local postal workers' union told reporters: "Thomas Morris was always a straightforward person. He was one person that you expected to do right."
Off hours, Mr. Morris's main passion was bowling. He was team president of his local mixed league. He had an average in the 200s, his son told a reporter. At the alley, Mr. Morris kept his cool when tempers flared. "He was mild-mannered and wouldn't get angry," one bowling colleague said. His friends affectionately called him "Moe."
On Friday, Oct. 12, 2001, Mr. Morris worked an overnight shift. The next morning, he was exposed to a powdery envelope. He didn't feel well all week. A few days later, he sought medical treatment. By this time, front-page news had broken of anthrax-tainted mail arriving on Capitol Hill. Mr. Morris made sure the doctors at his local Kaiser Permanente hospital knew where he worked and described his anthrax-like symptoms. They recommended Tylenol and sent him home.
But Mr. Morris suspected something unimaginably worse. In the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 21, he called 911. His voice was calm and thoughtful, but worried. "I don't know if I have been, but I suspect that I might have been exposed to anthrax," he told a dispatcher. "I went to the doctor Thursday. He took a culture, but he never got back to me with the results . . . Now I'm having difficulty breathing, and just to move any distance, I feel like I'm going to pass out."
He recalled his possible anthrax exposure the weekend before: "A woman found an envelope, and I was in the vicinity. It had powder on it. They never let us know whether the thing had, was anthrax or not. They never treated the people who were around this particular individual and the supervisor who handled the envelope. So I don't know if it is or not. I've not been able to find out. I've been calling. But the symptoms that I've had are what was described (to) me in a letter that they put out. Almost to the T."
Mr. Morris was admitted to a different hospital and treated for suspected inhalational anthrax. It was too late. He died several hours later of respiratory failure. At an intensely private funeral, Mr. Morris' son summed up the simple integrity of his dad's life: "He was a good man. He loved his family, his co-workers and bowling." Mr. Morris was buried with an American flag at Maryland National Veterans Cemetery.
"He could have been my dad," said the mayor of Washington, D.C., after the service. Or mine. Or yours. Eight months later, his murder has been all but forgotten. This good man's family deserves our prayers. More importantly, they deserve answers.