Sunday, August 08, 2010

Army Pfc. Paul O. Cuzzupe II

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Paul O. Cuzzupe II, 23, of Plant City, Fla.

Pfc. Cuzzupe was assigned to 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany; died Aug. 8, 2010 in Akhtar-Mohammad-Khan, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Barbara Ann Volpe and Annette Kirk stood on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base early this morning.

It was shortly after 12:30, and the women were among 13 family members who came to Delaware to see Pfc. Paul Orazio Cuzzupe II, of Plant City, return from Afghanistan.

But this was not a happy reunion.

Cuzzupe, 23, a U.S. Army combat medic, was killed Sunday when his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Akhtar-Mohammad-Khan. Volpe and Kirk were taking part in the Dignified Transfer program that allows family members to be there when caskets of their loved ones come home.

"It was the most heart-wrenching thing I had ever been through, seeing those caskets lined up with flags," said Volpe, Cuzzupe's grandmother, who lives in New Jersey.

"It was extremely moving," said Kirk, his mother, who lives in Seffner, where Cuzzupe went to high school

Cuzzupe was one of five service members – three soldiers and two Marines – whose bodies were flown back this morning after being killed serving their country

Cuzzupe's death was the culmination of a tough stretch for his family. In June 2009, his father, Paul, was killed in an automobile crash.

At the funeral, Cuzzupe turned to his stepmother with words of encouragement.

"He told me he just lost a father and that he was now the man of the family," said Alicia Cuzzupe, who married Cuzzupe's father, Paul. "He said he would step up and make sure everyone is taken care of."

Cuzzupe, who everyone called Paulie, didn't have long to live up to that promise – or fulfill the promise of his life.

Cuzzupe, his mother said, was a talented musician, a self-taught guitarist who loved alternative rock and was in a number of local bands, the most successful being The Seed and The Flawless Effect.

He was religious and was an altar server at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Seffner.

He was an honor student at Armwood High School, graduating in the top 20 percent of his class in 2005. He was almost ready to graduate from Saint Leo University with a degree in history and a minor in political science.

Cuzzupe wanted to be a state trooper after leaving the military.

He left behind two younger twin brothers, Anthony and David, "who are doing as well as can be expected," Kirk said.

As the son of two parents who met in the Army, Cuzzupe was proud to serve his country, Kirk said.

"He joined for a cause he believed in and to take care of people," she said. "He was a compassionate person."

Cuzzupe's compassion shined shortly before his death.

After coming off patrol with the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment, Cuzzupe was in his bunk, listening to music on his iPod when there was a call for a medic.

"A young boy was brought in by his father to the compound," Kirk said. "He (Cuzzupe) was the first medic on the scene. He was working on the boy for five to 10 minutes on his own. Finally, the senior medic told him to stop. The boy, who lost both legs and an arm due to an IED, was too far gone."

Cuzzupe received a commendation for his efforts. A few days later, he too became the victim of an IED.

Kirk said she is flying back to the Tampa Bay area today and that funeral arrangements are pending. She said she is still waiting for the military to release the body.

"I am extremely proud of him and what he did," said Kirk, who spent Tuesday night sleeping with pictures of her son. "No matter what happened, I am proud to call him my son.

TAMPA — The Army was in Paul O. Cuzzupe II's genes.

Both his parents donned Army greens. He was born on the Army base at Fort Riley, Kan.

He knew he would follow in their footsteps someday, said his grandfather, David Allard.

It became official last year when the 2005 graduate of Armwood High School in Seffner enlisted. He went on to become an Army combat medic, and was deployed to Afghanistan less than two months ago.

"He wanted to help people," said Allard, of Plant City.

Early Sunday, Pfc. Cuzzupe, 23, died during combat operations there, Allard said.

He was killed in Akhtar-Mohammad-Khan of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, the U.S Department of Defense said. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.

On Monday night, Cuzzupe's mother, Annette Kirk, and his grandmother, Judy Allard, traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, from where his body will be brought back home.

Cuzzupe's death came just a week after he was honored with the Army Commendation Medal for his efforts to save an Afghani child's life. The young child had lost both legs and an arm, and Cuzzupe did everything he could for the child but was unsuccessful, said his friend Jared Wilbur.

His higher-ups said he had gone above and beyond the call of duty, said Wilbur, 19, of Brandon.

"But that was just who he was."

Growing up in Seffner, Cuzzupe, the oldest of four kids, was known by friends as someone to turn to for advice.

"If someone was going to make a bad decision, he was always the voice of reason," said his friend and former bandmate Robert Wisniewski of Port Richey.

He also was the one who knew music. "When it came to a lot of things, he was a perfectionist, but especially his music," said Wisniewski, 24.

Cuzzupe learned to play guitar and formed a rock band with some friends. They called themselves the Seed.

He would talk music theory, write out the notes and make sure the sound was just right, Wisniewski said.

After high school, Cuzzupe attended Saint Leo University, missing graduation by just one semester, his grandfather said. He had wanted to become a high school history teacher, but his passion for the Army led him away from that path, Allard said.

He felt like it was a family tradition, Wisniewski said.

"It was always something that made him proud."

Several weeks after he was deployed, Cuzzupe told friends on Facebook how much he missed them.

"I want everyone back home to know that I am sorry if I have not been getting back to everyone in a timely fashion," he wrote. "I am in a very dangerous and bad place right now. I only have so much time, and a lot of people to talk to. I love and miss you all. When things calm down I will be contacting everyone that I am able to."

Then, about two weeks ago, Cuzzupe called his grandparents at 4 a.m.

"He said he was worried and concerned because of the conditions over there," Allard said, "but he knew he had a job to do."

Army Pfc. Paul O. Cuzzupe II was killed in action on 8/8/10.

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