PAWTUCKET — SPC Dennis C. Poulin's being the type of guy who was always there to help others while asking for nothing in return was noted by everyone from his sister and longtime friends to the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard at Thursday's funeral services for the fallen soldier.
Poulin, known as “Danny,” was laid to rest with full military honors at St. Ann Cemetery, Cranston. The 26-year-old Pawtucket native, who later lived in Cumberland, died on March 31 from injuries sustained in a military vehicle accident while conducting a mounted combat patrol near Chowkay, Afghanistan. He had enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 2008 and was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment in Worcester, Mass. as part of an 81 mm Mortar Team.
Military flag bearers lined the sidewalks along both sides of Newport Avenue near St. Teresa Church, where the Mass of Christian Burial was held. Family members and friends watched as the motorcade arrived from the William M. Tripp Funeral Home just down the street, and students from the nearby St. Teresa's School also lined the sidewalk as a gesture of support.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin were among the distinguished guests attending the funeral service. City Councilor Albert J. Vitali Jr., a friend of the Poulin family, was also in attendance. At the wake held the previous evening, Vitali and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien had presented Poulin's family with proclamations from the City Council and the City Administration.
The church was filled with members of both the Massachusetts and Rhode Island National Guard. Brigadier Gen. Brian Goodwin, assistant adjutant general for Army, and Command Sgt. Major John McDonough, senior enlisted non-commissioned officer, both from the Rhode Island Army National Guard, and Major General Joseph C. Carter, adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, were among the military dignitaries who were present.
Rev. Robert L. Marciano, Chaplain, Colonel, USAF and state command chaplain for the Rhode Island National Guard, delivered a moving homily for Poulin that spoke of his dedication and achievements as a respected soldier and also his great love of the family and friends he left behind. In addition to Poulin's parents, mother, Doris E. Poulin, and father, Richard H. Renau, his two sisters, Jennifer Poulin and Angelique Renau, and other family members, Rev. Marciano particularly spoke of the young soldier's love for his five-year-old son, Nikolous Cullen Poulin.
Rev. Marciano noted that 26 years ago, when Dennis C. Poulin, later called Danny, was brought to St. Joseph's Church as an infant to be baptized, a lighted candle was handed to his parents and the priest said the ancient words: “Dennis, receive the light of Christ and keep the flame of faith alive in your heart, when the Lord comes, may you go out to meet Him, with all the Saints, in a heavenly kingdom.”
The reverend noted that while everyone had come together now, burdened with grief and sadness over the young man's passing, those words of baptism should resonate as a reminder “that not only did Danny receive that light of Christ, but showed it to others, and made the world a brighter place because of his faith, love and his care for others.”
Rev. Marciano further noted that when Poulin decided to join the military and swore his oath to protect and defend this nation, he “stood his watch and did his duty with dedication, commitment and courage.” He told those assembled that “if we are here to pay Danny tribute, then we must not yield to this grief...but rather, we must listen to the lessons that Danny taught us with his life, and now, as so few can do, even taught us with his death.” “For,” as the reverend concluded, “What greater love is there than this, than one should lay down his life for his friends.”
Speaking through tears, Jennifer Poulin lovingly recalled that Danny was “more than a man—he was a hero, a con-artist, and, most of all, my brother.” He was the type of brother, she said, “who always made sure that I came first,” and was also a friend who gave freely of himself “without asking for anything...except a Mocha Madness from Honeydew,” she said, drawing bittersweet smiles from many in the church. She added that Danny “had his moments...but that was what made us love him even more.”
Poulin noted that her brother “had so many plans,” and said that while he loved his job in the military, he was excited to come home and see his son “who he loved more than life itself.” “He was taken from all of us way too soon,” she said, adding that Danny was “a loyal, hard working, all-American hero.”
Addressing Poulin's family, Major General Joseph C. Carter, Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, said he was speaking on behalf of all of the soldiers and airmen of the Massachusetts National Guard as he offered “our deepest sympathy for your loss.”
Carter called Poulin a capable solider and expert mortar gunman who was selected for additional specialized mortar training beyond what would have been typically given to someone of his rank. Poulin, he said, “was the type of soldier who would always, always, assist others.”
Carter said what while Poulin was admired for his skills and “the serious approach” he took to his job, he was also remembered by his fellow soldiers for his love and devotion to his family. “All the members of his unit knew about Nikolous. He spoke frequently of how he wanted Nikolous to have every opportunity in life that he could possibly provide,” said Carter.
Lightening up the somber mood, Carter also mentioned that Poulin “had a reputation for being a bit of a character.” He recalled that one time, the young guardsman had to explain why he was late for a drill. “He had a good excuse—his car had burst into flames enroute to the drill,” said Carter. He said that Poulin had then showed up for the next drill with his head half-shaved—a buzz cut on one side and three-inch hair on the other. “He explained that his clippers had broke and showed up with half a military haircut rather than be late again,” said Carter, drawing laughter.
Becoming serious again, Carter told Poulin's relatives, “You are members of the National Guard family and we will not forget you.” He concluded by saying that Poulin was a soldier, a son, a brother and a father, and that his ultimate sacrifice “made the Massachusetts Army National Guard stronger and our homeland safer.”
Standing outside the church after the funeral services, several of Poulins' friends echoed some of the words that were spoken inside about his devotion and selflessness. David Devlin, who knew Poulin since they were both 16, said, “He always took the time to love everybody he met.”
Bridgette Stranko said, “He was always there to help, and he never took anything. He always knew when you were sad and needed a hug,” she added, wiping away a tear.
David D. Gardner II commented that his friend of 12 years “was always a better friend to everyone around him than he could have been to himself.”