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‘She ... thought a lot of him’

August 16, 2019 by Brian Jopek


On Dec. 25, 1943, Arbor Vitae native Dennis Joseph Paquette, serving in the south Pacific with the U.S. Navy during World War II, turned 26 years old. 

An Aviation Machinist’s Mate Third Class, he was at the time of his loss that day a tailgunner aboard the Navy’s version of the four engine Consolidated B-24D Liberator bomber, the PB4Y-1.

The plane crashed off of Guadalcanal’s Koli Point, Paquette one of four crewmembers who perished, the rest of the crew returned to Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. 

It’s a story which appeared in the 2019 edition of “Fallen Heroes,” published by The Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News over Memorial Day weekend. 

Paquette attended grade school in Woodruff, was a graduate of the high school in Minocqua and attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. 

He joined the Navy on July 4, 1942. 

His niece, Joan Frasier of Rhinelander, 10 years old at the time of Paquette’s loss, told The Lakeland Times in April he “was a wonderful uncle, a kind person and always so gracious to myself and my brother.”

“I really thought a lot of him,” she said. “Dennis was my God father.”

Though he’s not there, a stone for him was placed next to his parents in  Woodruff’s St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery. 

Mary Paquette passed away in 1960 and Dennis’s father, Charles, in 1952, nearly 10 years after his boy was lost. 

On July 20, there was a brief family reunion of sorts at the cemetery in Woodruff as Joan Frasier was joined by two of Dennis’ nephews, Chris and Charlie Bucholz, to see a bronze marker — common on the gravestones of many U.S. veterans — which had been installed on the back of Dennis’s stone a week or so before. 

For decades, there wasn’t really anything to signify Dennis Paquette had even served in the U.S. military, let alone lost during World War II. 

Because of a Veterans Administration rule which states veterans who died before Nov. 1, 1990 are not eligible for a VA grave marker if they have a private marker, Paquette wasn’t eligible for a free VA grave marker. 

So, the bronze marker to designate he had served in the U.S. military had to be privately purchased.

Because of the size of Paquette’s stone, the bronze marker, purchased with a donation from the Rhinelander AMVETS chapter as well as with contributions from family members, was smaller than most. 

It was ordered and installed by Tim Haskin of Tomahawk Monuments, who waived the $150 installation charge. 

He also thoroughly cleaned Dennis Paquette’s gravestone as well as those of his mother and father.

“We get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people when we hear of situations like this,” Haskin said. “That’s why each spring, we tend to look for a veteran we can help.”

He said he comes from a family of veterans, which he said gives him a greater appreciation. 

“We try to focus on them (veterans) as much as we can,” Haskin said. “Because there are so few people that will.”

Taking care of Dennis Paquette’s marker was another way, he said, of doing that. 

On July 20, at the cemetery in Woodruff, Chris Bucholz, who was born several years after Dennis Paquette’s death, said his mom — Dennis’s little sister Clara who was 20 years old at the time of her brother’s loss — would talk about him. 

“She said, ‘If Dennis was still alive, he’d take you hunting, he’d take you fishing,’” Bucholz said. “She said ‘He’d enjoy the heck outta ya. She ... thought a lot of him.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

 

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