Unit: 10th Mountain, 41st Engineer (QRF)
Home Town: Mobile, AL
Died On: 10/06/1993
Cornell Houston joined the Army, originally as a reservist, after graduating high school in Mobile, Alabama. Houston played football as a defensive back at Dora High School. He liked to joke around and loved the military. SGT Houston spent a decade in service to his country as a combat engineer.
“That smile” is something people are apt to bring up when they talk about Sgt. Cornell L. Houston. It was his smile that his wife, Carmen, remembers about their first encounter. She was walking down the street in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, when a car stopped to give her a ride. Inside were a girlfriend and a guy she didn't know. He had a big smile on his face. It was Cornell Houston. The Rev. Clate Borders of Thomas Memorial AME Zion Church in Watertown, N.Y., remembers that smile, too. “I'll never forget it. He had a gold tooth up front,” Borders said.
Carmen Houston, 29 at the time, recalls her late husband's laugh. “He would tell a lot of jokes. He just had a way of making even your worst day . . . better.” His sense of humor shined through when he sent home pictures of Somali children dancing like Michael Jackson.
In many ways, Cornell Houston, 31, was a typical soldier. He missed his family; being away from them was hard, Carmen Houston said. But in other ways, Cornell Houston stood out. “He wanted to help everybody,” Borders said. “He liked to help those who could not help themselves.”
He also had “willingness to take hold of anything and get it done,” Borders recalled. The minister remembers mentioning to Houston on one occasion that the outside of the church needed to be cleaned. A short time later, Borders said, the grounds had been cleaned. Houston had rounded up a crew and took charge of getting the job done. “He didn't wait for things to get done,” Borders said.
Borders also remembers Houston coming to him to talk about joining the choir. “I don't know how to sing, but I've always wanted to do it, and I want to give it a try,” Houston said. Houston was so open and wanted so badly to learn that Borders sent him to the choir director. “I thought he did OK,” Borders said.
After arriving at Fort Drum, N.Y., Houston became a Mason and was a board member of the Watertown church.
Houston was assigned to C Company, 41st Engineering Battalion, at Fort Drum. He had arrived in Somalia in August 1993 on his second tour as part of the Quick Reaction Force (based in Mogadishu at the University Compound). The first tour was during the initial invasion force that when into Somalia under the direction of George H. W. Bush. Houston told family members that he had a sense that things were worse the second time around. During the Battle of Mogadishu, Houston was part of the Quick Reaction Force rescue convoy that went in to secure downed Blackhawk helicopters and save pinned down Rangers. He was wounded by gunfire and shrapnel on October 3, sustaining chest and other internal injuries, and died October 6 in the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany. Houston has been honored posthumously with the Purple Heart medal, the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor, and de Fleury Medal.
Borders believes the best way to remember Cornell Houston is for everyone to “pick up his banner and go forward with it into the community.”
Carmen Houston also wants people to remember Cornell Houston for his caring side. “It's like . . . ,” her voice trails off. “I miss him so much.”