BOSTON — A Navy SEAL from Cape Cod is among the 30 Americans who died Saturday when insurgents shot down their helicopter after a battle in Afghanistan.
Thirty-six-year-old Kevin Houston was among the 22 members from the elite U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six on board. It’s the same special operations unit that killed Osama bin Laden, though U.S. officials say Houston and those killed on Saturday didn’t take part in that operation.
Some of Houston’s classmates gathered Sunday to remember their friend.
In the living room of his house in Osterville, Joe Kennedy shakes his head, remembering the very first thing Houston told him when he met him back in the fifth grade: “My name is Kevin, and I’m gonna be a Navy SEAL.”
A Navy SEAL. Joe didn’t even know what that was. But he was impressed with the confidence of this mixed-race kid raised by a single mom.
“To know your place that early in life and relentlessly pursue it and do it is a rare thing,” said Kevin MacConnell, another friend from elementary school. He learned how driven Houston was one summer day when they were playing basketball out on the driveway.
“There was this one day it was just me and Kev. I told him he couldn’t dunk the basketball and I bet him a steak and cheese sub at the local sub shop down the street, called Buffy’s. And he’s like, ‘Like hell I can’t.’ And I knew he couldn’t, because I seen him try before. So I was just thinking I was getting a free sub, you know,” he said.
That was late afternoon. Houston took the ball and kept trying to dunk over and over, all through dinner and TV. Finally MacConnell’s dad went out to say he needed to get some sleep. The next day, though, Kevin was back.
“And he finally dunked the basketball. I looked at it like: that night. But he said, ‘You just said I couldn’t dunk, not that it had to be that night,’ so it was like a technicality! Nobody got the sub,” MacConnell said. “Maybe I should’ve gave the sub. But he didn’t do it that night!”
An athlete who trained harder than anyone, Kevin played high school basketball. He was captain of the football team. Kennedy was co-captain with him. But above all, Kennedy remembers how outgoing Houston was.
“Preppies, jocks, all of it. Kevin got along with everybody, absolutely everybody,” Kennedy said.
Kevin also loved fast motorcycles and got in a terrible crash his senior year. In a wheelchair at graduation, he stood up out of it to walk across the stage to accept his diploma.
After recovering from the crash, Kevin join the demanding life of Navy service, eventually making it to be a SEAL. He married, had kids. Still, each summer he‘d come back to visit his friends on the Cape.
It was in early May this year, when friend Jarrod Paquette got a call from Kevin, with some incredible news.
“Hey Boss! We got him,” Kevin said.
“The big dog. Done-ski.”
Osama bin Laden. Not Kevin, but other members of his secretive Navy SEAL Team Six.
Paquette said the call was unusual, because even with close friends, Kevin played down his service on the covert operations team. It might be why Kevin loved the YouTube parody, in which an actor plays a Navy SEAL bragging at a bar.
“I think he just loved that — maybe deep down, they would love to be able to do [that]. You know, to be able to let loose and scream out loud and have it be known,” Paquette said.
While his friends were enjoying another sandy summer on the Cape, Kevin died in a faraway region of arid shale and pitched mountainsides. Paquette said it gives him comfort knowing that Kevin died doing what he always wanted to do.
“He would often say, ‘I’m at the tip of the spear. I’m right where I wanna be,’” Paquette said.
Houston will be laid to rest later this week.