EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Lt. Wylkynsone, Naval Operational Support Center, presents Diana Perkins with a flag honoring her husband Paul “Pooch” Perkins a naval veteran during a military honors service at Riverside Cemetery on Veteran’s Day in Menominee. Each one of the thirteen folds made in the flag during the ceremony carry a special significance. 
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Lt. Wylkynsone, Naval Operational Support Center, presents Diana Perkins with a flag honoring her husband Paul “Pooch” Perkins a naval veteran during a military honors service at Riverside Cemetery on Veteran’s Day in Menominee. Each one of the thirteen folds made in the flag during the ceremony carry a special significance. 

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MARINETTE — The first fold embodies a symbol of life. The second fold conveys the belief in eternal life. And the third fold honors the sacrifices of the departed veteran.

“Paul was military for his whole life,” said Diana Perkins of Menominee, acknowledging the way her husband’s years of service imbued him with a proclivity of military order.

“His closet was just perfect. His clothes were hung all in the same direction and everything was neat. He was everything Navy. Navy, Navy, Navy.”

But to Diana, her husband Paul, was much more.

The first time she set eyes upon him occurred at a bar in Cedar River, called the “Lighthouse.” She recalls the clarity of that moment in a memory of first impressions.

“I thought he was gorgeous,” Diana said. “He was kind and funny and liked to have a lot of fun. He was a real people person.”

REVERENCE TO THE LIFE AND SERVICE

For Navy veteran Paul Perkins, who died in Aug. 11, 2017, those first three (of 13) ceremonial, profound and precise creases of the United States Flag, representing life, eternal life and sacrifice, finally arrived Monday afternoon in the cold brisk wind and bright sunlight cutting across Riverside Cemetery in Menominee. 

Paul received full military honors during a Veterans Day ceremony that paid tribute to the more than 20 years of service he devoted to his country. The event stood as a fitting homage to the sacrifice that each U.S. armed forces veteran imparts to his or her nation. 

More importantly however, it served as an emotional dichotomy that brought both heart-rending tears of closure and a reemergence of love and loss to his wife Diana. She stood silently as the somber moments of the military procession played out in the chilly fall winds.

“I finally decided that Veterans Day would be a good day to bury his ashes; I know he wanted and deserved a military funeral,” Diana said. “I have kept his ashes at home for two years, and I guess now I can part with them.”

The Funeral Honors Detail from the Navy Operational Support Center — Green Bay performed the ritual flag-folding for Paul and presented the Stars and Stripes to Diana. Chief Kimberly Clark, who serves on that detail, expressed the distinction bestowed by a military burial and the meditative meaning behind the ceremony.

“This is the way our country can show its gratitude to the service member and to their family,” Clark said. “This is the last tribute … it is the last opportunity the family member has to see the significance of what their loved one did for us as a nation.”

Halfway through the service, in succinct unison three rifles turned skyward and declared the Final Solute for Paul with three sharp distinct volleys that cut the solemnity of the moment with a poignant reminder of what it means to serve. As the echoes of those shots died away on the wind, Calvin Fernstrum, a U.S. Army veteran, 20-Year Club honor guard member and friend to Paul, provided the sounding of taps on his bugle.

“The sounding of taps signifies the reverence of the fallen veteran,” Fernstrum said, adding that the tradition originated during the Civil War.

The 20-year Club comprises a group of local veterans who served their country for 20 years or more, and who now perform various volunteer activities throughout the community, including military funerals and Memorial Day events.

“Performing this kind of service is an honor for us,” Fernstrum said.

To him, the day carried another level of reverence that arose from his friendship with Paul.

“I knew Paul,” he said. “We used to have a few beers in the club … when I found out the service was for him I made sure I was showing up; he was a friend of mine and he was just a nice guy. I’m glad they are finally putting him to rest and giving him the proper military funeral.”

A MAN OF FAMILY

NAMED “POOCH”

Although Paul served in the U.S. Navy for over 20 years, including a deployment during the Vietnam War where he worked in the engine room aboard a ship that provided vital support to the U.S. efforts inland, those who knew him best, knew him as much more than just a veteran.

The stories and impressions he imparted to his wife regarding his years of service, made it clear to Diana that he found military life enriching.

But Diana emphasized her husband’s devotion to family and friends defined the man she knew more than anything else. 

Following his Navy service, Paul became the owner of the Ogden Club in Menominee and also worked for 16 years as a truck driver. Although he spent a significant amount of time behind the wheel, facing down long open roads and many hours away from home as a truck driver, Diana underscored that fatherhood came first.

“He was a good father,” she said. “When he was traveling on the road for work, he always made sure he was home for his son’s basketball games.”

One tender example of Paul’s devotion, kindness and eccentricity that Diana recalls springs from a story she heard and a memory she embraces close to her heart. Paul drove a big pickup truck when he was younger, before Diana knew him. He used to tool around everywhere with “a great big stuffed toy dog” in the passenger seat. For that reason, he acquired the nickname, “Pooch,” and it stuck ever since.  

SAYING GOODBYE

Paul always told Diana that upon his passing, he wanted her to to arrange a celebration of life at the Ogden Club.

“I gave him that celebration first,” she said. “But I had to get myself to a place where I could let go of his ashes.”

She finally let them go on Veterans Day, planting them in a spot where, on a clear day, sunlight falls almost perpetually. And despite her tears, she expressed the happiness she felt that she was finally able to give him the honors and burial that he deserved.