MIDDLETOWN — They were proud to be there in Boston in August 2007, when their son was sworn in as a volunteer in the Army. They were there in Kentucky when he graduated from advanced basic training.
But Saturday night, the family of Sgt. Michael F. Paranzino, a 2006 graduate of Middletown High School, were present for an honor they would have gladly forsaken as his flag-draped coffin was somberly removed from a plane at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The Department of Defense said Paranzino, just shy of 23, was killed Friday by an improvised explosive device while serving near Kandahar in Afghanistan. The decorated soldier had been a cavalry scout with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
He had been in Afghanistan since March, after serving a tour in Iraq.
Throughout the day on Sunday, an electronic sign in front of the Middletown Police Department summed it up in flashing lights: “MPD salutes fallen hero Sgt. Michael Paranzino.”
More honors will follow once the Army releases his body and he is brought back to Rhode Island for burial. Those arrangements were still incomplete Sunday.
Paranzino leaves behind a wife, Lindsey, and sons Maxton and Logan, all in Calcium, N.Y., outside Fort Drum, and his parents, Melane and Francis “Butch” Paranzino of Middletown.
Being a soldier was a job Michael did proudly, his sleep-deprived father said Sunday afternoon. He and his wife had just returned from the “dignified transfer” ceremony marking the return of their son late Saturday night at Dover.
Family and friends were beginning to arrive at the home, tucked away at the edge of a farm on Vanicek Avenue. A friend, fresh from church where a Mass of Remembrance was said on Michael’s behalf, brought food. Others lingered sorrowfully in the kitchen. The Paranzino answering machine gave a beep every 10 seconds, signifying messages waiting to be checked.
“He was a very good soldier,” Butch Paranzino said. “Needless to say, we were very proud of him.”
Michael Paranzino graduated from Middletown High School in 2006. He did some wrestling there. He was also a good archer, his mother said.
He didn’t want to go to college right away and explored other options, such as working at a tent company and toiling on fishing boats. Ultimately he decided to volunteer for the military.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to be a nobody and hang around here. I want to make something of my life,’ ” his father recalled.
Butch and Melane stood with him when he took his oath in Boston. “When he completed his advanced basic training, we were there at Fort Knox” in Kentucky, the father said.
“He learned what it was to work hard, respect authority and discipline. As a youngster, he kind of made his own rules,” Butch said. The Army “was very good for him. It was wonderful, except for the danger.”
Butch Paranzino said his son was proud of how far he had come as a soldier.
“He did like it. He was doing what he wanted to do. I don’t think there was any talking him out of it,” he said. “He went from teenager to man,” intent on providing for his family, being a good son and being a good soldier to his country.
“He took pride in the responsibility he had for the other guys. When he made sergeant, I asked how it felt. And he said, ‘Well, can you imagine being in charge of a bunch of crazy teenagers with guns?’ So even at 22, he had that parental attitude.”
Cell-phone and Internet service wasn’t easy to come by in that region of Afghanistan. “I would either get a text message, a phone call or some contact by Facebook every 7 to 10 days,” Melane said.
“As a parent, you live to hear that he said something,” said Butch, especially when “we knew it was a very active area” of Afghanistan.
“Even if he said something to someone else,” she explained, “I knew he logged on and he was okay.”
Melane would send him weekly care packages of clean socks, beef jerky and homemade peanut butter balls.
The couple last saw their son two weeks ago. “He was back here on a mid-tour leave and we had the absolute best time,” Butch Paranzino said, then fighting back tears. “He promised us he’d come home safe.”
Sunday, Melane Paranzino wore a necklace consisting of Michael’s identification, along with dog-tag-size photos of her soldier.
“I wore these during his first tour [in Iraq]. He got an extra dog tag and gave it to me,” she said. As for the pendant with photos on either side, “I had this made because I wanted to be able to see him and keep him close to my heart. And now, I’ll never take them off.”
“I believe he’s a hero,” Butch Paranzino said. “He fought so we can have what we enjoy here. Whatever challenges you have in your life, if you think of him and do the best you can to succeed, you’re honoring his memory.”