Last month I was honored to be able to attend the funeral of Sgt Devin C. Poche’. It was an opportunity to be among his family and friends to learn something about this young man whom I had never met. In fact, I had only learned his name just a week earlier.
A mere mention in my local newspaper was all there was about his untimely death half a world away in what so many in his position called the ‘sandbox.’
Having had someone so close to me geographically to be killed in Iraq motivated me to want to learn more about this young man.
I began eagerly scanning two local papers and watching the evening news for my area, but nothing more was mentioned. The papers still spoke of local crime, local events and the weather, but nothing of Devin. Life went on as usual for most.
But somewhere out there, close to me, in the same county as I live, there was a family whose life was not going on as usual. They had lost a son, a brother, a grandson and a friend. I wondered why my own community had not stepped up to tell this man’s story. Surely folks wanted to know about him. I know I did.
I knew it took about 10 days to prepare a funeral for military personal killed overseas, so I decided to just look for an obituary in hopes of learning more about Devin. A few days later, there it was finally, a notice in the local paper. However, it told little more than I already knew at this point. Just the fact that he died in Iraq, and the funeral home who would be handling the arrangements.
A quick call to the funeral home was made to inquire if the family would mind if a total stranger invited herself to the service. I was told that they would likely be pleased if I attended. It would be held the following day at 1:00, which was Good Friday.
So there it was…that’s how I came to find myself at the service of Sgt Devin C. Poche’ along with about 200 other mourners. People whose lives Devin had come in contact with.
I went there alone and walked into the church sitting at the second to the last row on the left hand side. The right side appeared to be reserved for family.
It was an impressive group of people considering that this young man received hardly any press coverage. The Fort Bragg Honor Guard was there and several people got up and spoke. The choir sang as well as a soloist. I quickly learned that Devin’s grandfather, was the Pastor that was giving the eulogy. This was the same grandfather that Devin and his sister came to live with at about age 10 when his family left California to move back near maternal family ties on the southeast coast. The Reverend offered up a few humorous stories of Devin as he grew to be a responsible man with dreams of joining the military. The congregation heard how Devin was a smart, even brilliant, student who was placed in the Academically gifted program at a young age. He was a member of the National Honor society and received numerous awards through his formative years. And because of his love of children, he served as mentor at the boys and girls club while enrolled at Coastal Carolina Community College. He also loved music, all kinds. Gospel, jazz, neo Soul, rhythm and blues and hip hop.
Finally, my curiosity was slowly being sated as I sat with moist eyes. I began to realize what road led this Sergeant to the end of his short life, and what brought me, a total stranger to be sitting among neighbors I had never met.
Devin joined the military on Valentines Day in 2005 and was stationed in Hawaii. He quickly rose to the rank of Sgt while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. Yes, he was planning for the future and no doubt, thankful for the past that had brought him so far already.
I had sat near an elderly woman and about half way through the service she offered me a piece of candy, which I gladly accepted. At the end of the service, she thanked me for coming and ask if I lived nearby, and then she told me where she lived and ask me to come see her if I have any questions or trouble. Not sure who she thought I was, but the gesture was very heartwarming.
The 1 hour and 20 minute service at the church ended and we all drove about 1 mile to the cemetery for military honors presented by the Honor Guard who also served as Pallbearers. We were all given a keepsake pamphlet about Devin and invited back after the graveside ceremony for time with the family and a meal. However, I left after the graveside and came on home. I just didn’t think I would know what to say to his grieving mother. The drive home was solemn and satisfying at the same time. No radio playing to distract me, no traffic on these back roads to hinder me. Just a quiet drive of reflection on a life I never knew until that day.