“What a waste.”
Those were the words spoken again and again by Earl Paulich in reference to the loss of his brother, Vietnam War veteran Patrick James Paulich, who died in combat on Nov. 30, 1970 at 20-years-old. Only their mother called him Patrick, though. To everyone else he knew he was Pat.
Pat was born on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, 1950 and was named Patrick because of that. He was the youngest of five siblings and grew up in Niagara, Wis. with his parents and siblings Betty, Brad, Frank, and Earl. Brad and Frank had both served in the military before Pat. Brad was in the Navy during the Cuban Missile crisis but never saw combat, and Frank had suffered injuries in Vietnam and was sent home and has been partially disabled from them.
When Frank came back from Vietnam, Pat began to start thinking about a future in the military as well. He was living with Frank and Frank’s wife and working a factory job in Racine, Wis. when he decided to enlist in the Army. His brothers Earl and Frank remember him as being a kid searching for his place in life.
“He was a nice kid just trying to find his way,” said Earl Paulich.
“I think he wanted to do something,” said Frank Paulich. “He looked up to his big brother.”
The brothers said he wrote letters to their mother and the family frequently, and Frank spoke to him on the phone all the time while he was away. The letters were of shock at what he experienced and saw and the true horror that was the Vietnam War.
When the news came, that day in November 1970, the entire family was devastated. Earl remembers the exact sequence of events that took place when he first heard the horrible news.
He was a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and was hanging out in his dorm room with his friends. There was one payphone on each floor, and a knock came on his door saying there was someone on the phone for him. When Earl answered, it was his uncle from Michigan who told him of his brother’s death.
“I remember walking back to my room thinking, ‘how am I going to tell my friends what just happened?’” said Earl Paulich.
Earl was not a supporter of the war, but he still loved his brother who chose to fight in it and was devastated when he found out his brother had died.
“I was angry because I didn’t want the war anyway.”
The Paulichs’ mother had lost her mother-in-law whom she was extremely close with and another family member, all within three months of each other, but Pat’s was the worst.
When the time came for Pat’s funeral, it was decided to be a closed casket but the family was given the choice of seeing their beloved brother. Everyone chose to see him except their mother.
Earl described the scene with Pat being wrapped in bandages in his casket. His casket had a glass cover and his head was partially wrapped as he had suffered a head wound.
“It was just horrible.”
When recounting the event, Earl said he had been thinking about the funeral and his brother lately and had had a dream about the funeral and seeing his brother in the casket.
“Why did I do that? Why did I want to see that?” was all that he could think or say.
The brothers both remembered Pat as a good kid saying he was a “very, very loving man” and was just trying to find a place where he fit in.
“It’s been a long time,” said Earl as he reflected on his brother’s life and death and the 45 years that have since passed. “Life’s not fair. Thank God there’s more joy than bad.”