Thursday, February 18, 2010

Marine Pfc. Kyle J. Coutu

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Pfc. Kyle J. Coutu, 20, of Providence, R.I.

Pfc. Coutu was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Feb. 18, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

A Pawtucket Marine who was killed in Afghanistan is being remembered as a natural leader.

On Thursday, two U.S. Marines notified Coutu’s mother, Melissa, about the death of her only child, Henry Coutu said. Friday night, Melissa Coutu and her parents flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where her son’s body was expected to arrive Saturday morning.

“A lot of these young men of ours who are dying are kids whose lives haven’t had a chance to get started,” Henry Coutu said.

An American flag was in the yard, yellow ribbons on the railings at his mother's home in Providence. His aunt told us, Kyle "Joe," an only child, enlisted one week after high school graduation.

His friends are distraught about his death. His aunt described him as the "Mayor of Tolman" because he was everybody's friend at Tolman High School in Pawtucket.

Coutu got engaged around Thanksgiving.

The last time his aunt, Jennifer Durkin, spoke with him was February 2. He was leaving base in Afghanistan, couldn't say where he was going - only that he was on a mission.

Coutu was a graduate of William E. Tolman High School, where he was captain of the wrestling and football teams.

Principal Frederick Silva said the 20-year-old Coutu was "one of those really good kids" and had wanted to be in the Marines since he was a freshman.

He said Coutu visited the school about a month ago, in uniform, to say hello before he headed to Afghanistan. He said Coutu was a little nervous about heading overseas, but looking forward to it.

In his junior year, he suffered a shoulder injury while wrestling. His big concern was it might disqualify him from serving, but the rehabilitation was successful.

It was perfectly within the framework of the situation to mourn and express grief. Yet how Tolman High School chose to honor the memory of 2009 graduate Kyle J. Coutu, who was killed last Thursday while proudly defending his country’s freedom in Afghanistan, revealed just how immensely revered this 20-year-old was – particularly amongst the myriad of coaches he suited up for.

In short, Coutu touched so many lives because he was a three-season athlete. He chose to play sports known for their rugged and physical nature, from captaining the football and wrestling programs under Dave Caito, to playing hockey under Steve Reynolds, and lastly participating in outdoor track. He was someone who embodied school spirit and took great pride in donning a Tolman uniform.

A series of somber events took place over the weekend, all of which were designed to aid with the coping process. Saturday night’s moving tribute at Lynch Arena featured the Tolman hockey program paying respect to Pfc. Kyle Coutu with the players holding miniature American flags during a moment of silence and the national anthem.

The ceremony also featured Tigers goaltender Stephane Meunier and forward Sean Bergeron holding up each end of an American flag that directly faced the Tolman bench. There hung two jerseys, a red and a white one. One of the hockey sweaters was turned backwards to reveal Coutu’s hockey number, #21, while the other faced front. The players also wore black armbands with No. 21 depicted across them.

How Coutu got involved in hockey was a story Reynolds willingly shared. “Kyle did me a personal favor. We’re on our way back up with the program, but last year I needed bodies. That was the type of kid Kyle was – he had a lot of school pride and a lot of pride in himself.” It should be noted Coutu had never laced up a pair of skates prior to last season.

“I commend him for coming out and giving the effort,” said Reynolds. “He came out to be our backup goaltender, and, just being the type of kid he was, he wanted to skate out and hit people. He was a tough kid.

“A lot of people say things in light of (such a tragic turn of events). With Kyle, it’s all true,” added Reynolds. “He was the epitome of what people talk about. My heart goes out to his family.”

Here are some of the words Tolman public address announcer Robert Masse summoned when he addressed the crowd on Coutu’s behalf: “He stood for the best of Tolman High School, showing sportsmanship, dignity and respect to all he encountered.”

Sunday afternoon’s gathering at the high school, which was spearheaded by guidance counselor Maureen Toth, was another chance to eulogize Coutu. Hundreds of students, past and present, passed through the doors to offer up personal reflections on somebody who was barely eight months removed from receiving his high school degree.

“I saw him during football season and he was just about ready to go into basic training,” said Caito. “He was a down-to-earth kid who you could talk to about anything. You hate to see anything like that happen, but it really hits home when it’s someone who played for you.”

Caito came up with the idea of presenting the football jersey Coutu wore during Tolman’s Super Bowl run in 2008 to his mother Melissa. Students are also encouraged to sign another jersey with the intention of it eventually being displayed in a glass case. “We want to put it in a prominent place,” said John Scanlon, Tolman’s athletic director. “Kyle always wore a smile and always held his hand out, ready to shake.”

The manner in which Coutu’s life was cut terribly short helps shed some light on what truly matters in life. “You have things that go wrong during the season, but once you hear something like that, you ask yourself ‘What are we really concerned about?’” said Reynolds. “He’s a grown man, but last year at this time he was sitting in our locker room.”

This has been a bad week for Tolman, Silva said.

Another student, 16-year-old sophomore Allison Boja, died in her sleep on Valentine's Day. "That was totally unexpected," the principal said. As a result of that death, plans had already been made to have guidance counselors at the school gym Sunday from 12 to 4, in case students wanted to talk about Boja.

Now, with the news of Coutu's death, the counselors will be available to talk about that tragedy as well, said Silva. "It's for kids who need to sit around and talk," he said.

Marine Pfc. Kyle J. Coutu was killed in action on 2/18/10.

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