On a day when we stop to give thanks, I want to thank this Solider for paying the ultimate price for our freedom. This is the second warrior from my hometown to die in Afghanistan this month. RIP, Solider. Thank you for your service.
Staff Sergeant Matthew Pucino had gone through at least three tours of duty in Iraq and most recently in Afghanistan, survived bombing raids, earning a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for bravery in the field.
Despite the recent spike in violence that has taken the lives of dozens of civilians and servicemen and women in Afghanistan, Pucino’s friends and relatives felt confident they would see him again. He was scheduled to come back home in January.
But on Monday, 34-year-old Pucino was patrolling in the area of Pashay Kala when the all-terrain vehicle he was in struck an improvised explosive device. Pucino, a Green Beret who grew up in Plymouth and had served in the Army since 2002, was killed.
“In the back of your mind, every time you hear about another soldier you say, ‘Oh, here we go,’ ’’ said Pucino’s first cousin, Anthony Pucino of Norton. “Did I think it would happen to him? No. . . . He’s already been in the initial part of the war when it was absolutely crazy. He made it through all the bombing raids. Then something like this happens.’’
Yesterday, as his two sisters and parents waited at a Delaware military base for his body to arrive, friends and relatives in Massachusetts mourned the loss of an athletic, generous man with a sly sense of humor and a love of pranks that belied his powerful frame.
“He was the funniest guy on the planet,’’ said Jeffrey Jackson, a Barnstable police officer who roomed with Pucino for four years before he joined the Army. “He was definitely a prankster.’’
A talented cook, Pucino bristled at anyone who said his veal parmigiana tasted like chicken. His other roommate once made the mistake of maligning the dish, Jackson recalled, then made things worse by eating all of Pucino’s carefully prepared food. Pucino’s revenge was to stick a codfish in the ceiling tile of his roommate’s bedroom.
Around the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Pucino was working as a manager of a liquor store in Dennis and attending classes at Cape Cod Community College. The son of a retired State Police captain, Pucino was drawn to law enforcement, Jackson said. He had worked as a part-time police officer for Yarmouth in the mid-1990s and often asked Jackson, who had served four years in the Air Force, about military life.
After the attacks, Pucino’s interest in the military grew into a near obsession. He was determined not only to enlist, but to earn the elite title of a Green Beret in the Army’s Special Forces, Jackson said.
He succeeded, according to the Army. He became a Special Forces engineer sergeant and an intelligence sergeant. He was awarded several accolades including the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Good Conduct Medal.
“This was his calling,’’ Jackson said. “This is what he loved to do. We knew, being Special Forces, he would be on the front line, but you never expect to get this call.’’
Pucino was the second soldier with ties to Plymouth killed in Afghanistan this month. Army Sergeant Benjamin Sherman, 21, was killed when he jumped into a river in Afghanistan to save a soldier who had been swept away.
Pucino was killed on the four-month anniversary of the death of Nicholas Xiarhos, a 21-year-old Marine corporal from Yarmouth Port who was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb in July.
Xiarhos’s father, Steven, a police lieutenant in Yarmouth, was struck by the similarities between the deaths of his son and Pucino, whom he remembered from his days as a young part-time officer, eager to help fellow officers direct traffic and book prisoners.
“I personally know what it’s like to lose a patriot and a hero, and I feel so sad for his family,’’ Steven Xiarhos said. “Now they’re Gold Star families like me. It was a club I never wanted to be part of.’’