Monday, May 18, 2015

November 14, 2001, Washington Post, Post Office Employees Eulogized; Anthrax Claimed Lives Of Brentwood Workers, by Manny Fernandez,

November 14, 2001, Washington Post, Post Office Employees Eulogized; Anthrax Claimed Lives Of Brentwood Workers, by Manny Fernandez,

A member of President Bush's Cabinet handed folded American flags to relatives, the postmaster general presented posthumous postal freedom medals, and a uniformed honor guard stood at attention just inside the church doors.

Two D.C. postal workers who died from anthrax exposure were eulogized yesterday at a Washington memorial service with all the ceremony and stateliness of a salute to fallen soldiers -- exactly what family members, colleagues and national leaders said Joseph P. Curseen Jr. and Thomas L. Morris Jr. deserved.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told those at the noon service at Mount Pleasant's All Souls Church, Unitarian, that Curseen and Morris never formally enlisted in America's war on terrorism but served nonetheless. "They never asked to be on the front lines," Ridge said at the pulpit in the pristine, white-painted chapel. "They had no warning they would give their lives for their country."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) asked the men and women in blue-and-gray postal uniforms to stand, in a tribute to what Hoyer called the most productive and successful postal service in the world.

Ridge later presented family members with American flags, and Robert F. Rider, chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, handed them blue flags emblazoned with the postal logo. The gesture brought many to tears.

"They were heroes for the Postal Service," said Waynette James-Burton, 50, a letter carrier at the District's Friendship station in Tenleytown. "We go out every day and put on this blue uniform to bring communications throughout the world to different people, and they had to die doing this."

Nearly 1,000 people -- from members of Congress to Postmaster General John E. Potter to Washington area letter carriers and mail handlers -- attended the two-hour farewell. At the foot of the pulpit lay wreaths of red, white and blue flowers, to the sides of which were color photographs of the men. The service was intended to celebrate the lives of Curseen and Morris, who died last month from inhalation anthrax they contracted while working at the District's central postal facility on Brentwood Road NE.

In fond remembrances, patriotic speeches and gospel hymns, with equal amounts of sniffles and laughter, co-workers and family members recalled the men's work ethic and regional dignitaries saluted their dedication. "Joe stayed there seven days a week," said one of Curseen's co-workers at Brentwood, James Harper, 41. "Joe gave up breaks to get that mail out."

Curseen, 47, of Clinton, a native of Washington, died Oct. 22 at Southern Maryland Hospital Center.

He was remembered by colleagues as the kind of employee who never called in sick during his 15 years with the Postal Service. He was the president of his neighborhood community association and helped build a playground and park in the area even though he and his wife, Celeste, had no children. He regularly led a postal worker Bible study group.

Morris, also a District native, worked as a distribution clerk and had been with the Postal Service since 1973. He was the kind of hard worker who had no aversion to staying overtime, friends said. Morris, 55, of Suitland, was just as dedicated to his life off the clock as a proud husband and father of a son and two stepchildren and as a team president of the Tuesday Morning Mixed Bowling League.

Before joining the Postal Service, he served in the Air Force for more than four years. Morris died Oct. 21 at Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

He was known as "Moe" in the halls of Brentwood, a quiet and deeply religious man who led by example. "He was true to others," his wife, Mary, said to the audience. "He was true to himself." At the end of her remarks, postal workers stood up to applaud.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic applause came when Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) said that mistakes had been made in the government's handling of the postal system's anthrax crisis. Many postal workers have said that the discovery of an anthrax-tainted letter on Capitol Hill was treated more urgently for Hill workers than it was for the blue-collar workers at Brentwood.

"We in government have not served you well," said Wynn, who added that officials needed to start listening more closely to concerns of postal workers.

"This is something new for all of us," said Larry McCray, 59, a mail handler at the Southern Maryland postal facility. "I think everyone has been trying to deal with this as best they can."

McCray and hundreds of other postal workers watched the proceedings from the filled church pews and from a hall nearby, where the service was broadcast on closed-circuit television. Letter carriers, clerks and sorters at plants and stations across the country were able to watch the ceremony on a Postal Service broadcast.

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