On an Aquidneck Island gentle hillside lightly swept by ocean breezes from Mount Hope Bay, a hero was laid to rest Monday.
Sgt. Michael F. Paranzino—father, husband, son, brother, friend, soldier, inspiration—was honored by a gathering of about 400 people who came to mourn, to say goodbye, to remember, to salute, to thank, and to celebrate the 22-year-old soldier's life that, by all accounts, he chose to live with joy, love, honor, purpose and ultimately, sacrifice.
Many in attendance at the Monday morning funeral Mass at and burial at St. Columba's Cemetery in Middletown knew him well and grieved his loss deeply. Many more who filled the church had never met him before, but wanted to honor both his family and the fallen soldier, who was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan Nov. 5 by an improvised explosives device, or IED, while conducting a patrol with his platoon.
Paranzino—or "Zino" as fellow soldiers as well as Afghanistan village children alike had called him—had served as a cavalry scout in the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, based out of Fort Drum, N.Y., reportedly the only division within the U.S. Army trained for specialized fighting under harsh terrain and weather conditions.
A 2006 graduate of , Sgt. Michael Paranzino had served in the U.S. Armed Forces for 3 1/2 years, according to his family. He is survived by his wife Lindsey, his sons Logan and Maxton Paranzino of Fort Drum, NY, his parents Francis and Melane Paranzino, and his brother Daniel F. Paranzino of Middletown.
Middletown Town Administrator Shawn Brown, members of the Town Council, other town officials and Middletown's fire department were in attendance, as were other local dignitaries, and representatives of the State Police, Middletown, Portsmouth, Newport and Charlestown police departments in dress uniform who participated in an Honor Guard.
The Rhode Island Army National Guard honored Paranzino with full military honors and U.S. Army General William Rapp spoke during the Mass on behalf of the United States Armed Forces. Rapp expressed the nation's gratitude and also brought home stories from Paranzino's unit to be shared, demonstrating how he was widely respected as a soldier and as a friend. "His brigade commander said he always led from the front," said Rapp of Paranzino's bravery and leadership."He was the first in line ... if even to ride a donkey."
Rapp went on to share stories that brought out some light laughter and smiles among the audience. "He was very popular with his teammates as well as the Afghanistan children in the villages. 'Zino, Zino!' they would yell when they saw him coming."
"He loved weightlifting," Rapp continued. "And he was known for wearing these very tight t-shirts, and he would say these tiny t-shirts were an extra-large, and that even an extra large was too small to fit him…Now, if the weight room was quiet, the other guys would joke, 'Zino must be outside. It's too quiet in there.'"
As a symbol of patriotism, stars and stripes represented "something bigger than us" and Paranzino understood that and he demonstrated that belief by example, said Rapp.
"He had the heart of a lion and today we are here to honor his memory," said Rapp, "Our task today is to honor Michael Paranzino. Mike lived his life well, with honor…He made his nation proud."
The church service, led by St. Lucy's Rev. John O'Brien, included readings by Paranzino's relatives, including his father's cousin Peter Paranzino, who provided the Mass' First Reading from the scriptures of Saint Paul, which carried the message that death "would not separate us from God."
Paranzino's aunt, Tammy Nuemayer, provided for the Second Reading a passage from the Book of Revelations that offered a comforting "vision of paradise" in the hereafter in which "God will wipe away every tear from our eyes."
In his Homily, the Rev. Eugene McKenna spoke of the "presence" of faith as helping in the healing process and he noted the support and "presence" of loved ones and strangers alike who mourned with the family in hopes of providing some comfort. "Being present in your lives might be a source of comfort for you…Welcoming the presence of God and may you be welcomed and comforted in so many ways."
Through uplifting song and music that included a choir, violinist, pianist and organist, as well as prayers offered up—to wish comfort upon the Paranzino family, for safety for "all our heroes to keep them safe," and the continued "protection of the men and women who continue to serve"—the church service celebrated Paranzino's life and reached out to support the family he leaves behind.
Witnessed by the outpouring of support Monday by strangers who did not know Paranzino or his family, the young soldier's death clearly touched the hearts of the greater Aquidneck Island community that joined in mourning his loss Monday.
Townspeople stood at the street's edge and on front lawns dotted by yellow swirling leaves as the funeral precession wound its way from St. Lucy's Church on West Main Road to St. Columba's Catholic Cemetery.
Nearly 150 motorcyclists and riders representing the Rhode Island chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA) also escorted the precession and stood in formation outside the church and at the cemetery along the perimeters at both sites, holding tall flagpoles bearing the U.S. flag in its Colonial American and modern-day representations.
The two motorcycle groups started to provide such services to honor fallen soldiers years ago to provide a buffer to families from war protesters and, besides that concern, members continue to support the families of fallen soldiers any way they can, explained member Jake Taraksian. The group offered its services to the Paranzino family and they accepted, he noted. "We're here to honor the fallen soldier and show the families that veterans care, and to mourn their loss," said Taraksian.
Darleen Ayala, of Middletown, walked around encouraging funeral attendees to sign a plain white t-shirt she had brought along to pass to Paranzino's family afterwards with messages of support from the community.
She did not know Paranzino or his family, but was moved to near-tears when she spoke with Patch. "His life is priceless. He sacrificed his life for all of us. He could have been my nephew, my brother, my neighbor — he could have been any one of our sons. I just think of all of the kids he could have mentored or more that he could have inspired as he already had. His loss was a loss to all of us."
At the cemetery services, Rhode Island's Commander Chaplain for the Rhode Island National Guard, Father Col. Robert Marciano, also joined local clergy in providing the Mass of Christian Burial Prayers. "Today, this is the nation's outpouring of affection for an extraordinary young man who made an extraordinary difference," said Father Marciano afterwards. "We take care of our own in life and death."
"This is a nightmare for any parent," he said, noting that 23 Rhode Island soldiers have died since the War on Terror began after 9/11. "Now the work begins to help the family go back to living."
Such signs of hope and of "living" were visible even on such a day as Monday.
Funeral Director Robert S. Edenbach, a Navy veteran who served as a lieutenant about the USS Forest Royal in Vietnam, was visibly moved for the family and his country during his closing remarks at the burial site. In his work for Memorial Funeral Home, he has overseen the funerals of three fallen soldiers that have occurred "too recently," he said afterwards, noting the passing of Sgt. Christopher Potts from Tiverton several years ago.
As the crowd at the cemetery dissipated and two dozen family and friends lingered longer, Edenbach pointed out a nearby toddler just learning to walk, pushing himself up onto his knees, mustering all his strength to stand—the casket of Sgt. Michael Paranzino a few yards away. The toddler wobbled, stood and let out a loud proud giggle. "That's what I like to see—life," said Edenbach. "The promise of life."
In his homily earlier in the day, Father McKenna spoke of Michael's sons, Logan and Maxton, and how his surviving wife Lindsay had shared with him her hope to raise them to be as "honest, self-sacrificing, heroic in their own way, and as good with people" as Michael had been with people.
"Michael is no longer present with us in the physical sense, but our faith, our hearts and our love tell us he's with us in a new way," Father McKenna said.