New York — When President Bush met with the families of fallen rescue workers amid the rubble of the World Trade Center last week, Arlene Howard pressed a police shield into his hand and asked him to remember all the people who died. It had belonged to her son, George Howard.
"He said he was honored," Howard recalled Friday. "Then he told me, 'We're going to get them.'"
Thursday night, Bush displayed the badge during his address to the nation and said it was a symbol of courage that he would carry with him always. "It is my reminder of lives that ended and a task that does not end," he said.
Sept. 11 was supposed to be a day off for George Howard, 44, a 16-year veteran of the Port Authority police force. But when he heard there was trouble at the World Trade Center, he rushed out of his house without saying goodbye, picked up a colleague and sped to the scene. He was running toward the towers when the second one collapsed and buried him in an avalanche of rubble.
"He died doing what loved to do," his mother said Friday. "Saving people's lives."
Howard was an officer of the old-fashioned kind, with a burly build and a scrub-brush mustache, his taste for danger balanced with a strong sense of duty. There was a bomb scare at St. Alban's Naval Hospital on the day he was born, his mother recalled. "He loved this kind of stuff, fighting fires and saving lives," she said. "Danger is in his blood."
When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, Howard helped hundreds of people evacuate down darkened stairways to safety; among them were 63 schoolchildren trapped in an elevator. He shrugged off praise at the time. "Everybody just did their job," he told a reporter. "That's what they pay us for."
And that's what he would have said today if he had survived, his mother said.
"We are proud of him, but we are heartbroken," his mother said. "I feel that people in America had better start loving this country and loving this flag. My son put his life down for it."
Wednesday, Howard's two sons, 19-year-old Christopher and Robert, 13, somberly led mourners into the church in their hometown of Hicksville on Long Island. One by one, Howard's colleagues and friends stood up to speak of his bravery, how he coached his children's soccer and lacrosse teams and how he could talk his way through anything.
"When it's my time and I find the gates of heaven closed, I will yell through the gates for George," said Port Authority police Lt. Kevin Hasa. "If anyone knows how to get through that gate, it's George."