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R.I. soldier who died saving Afghan boy laid to rest

STEW MILNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

An honor guard carried the remains of Dennis Weichel Jr. in Exeter, R.I., Monday. Weichel, a Rhode Island National Guard sergeant, was killed in Afghanistan on March 22.

PROVIDENCE - A Rhode Island National Guard sergeant who was killed in Afghanistan while saving an Afghan boy was remembered Monday for having the “courage of a warrior’’ and the “heart of a father.’’

At a memorial service at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, fellow soldiers and friends recalled Sergeant Dennis Weichel Jr.’s goofy smile, his obsession with Superman, and a selflessness that left no one who knew him surprised to hear how he died.

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The 29-year-old Providence resident was struck and killed by an armored vehicle on March 22 in Laghman Province after moving to safety an Afghan boy who was trying to retrieve something underneath the vehicle.

Weichel had been a member of the Rhode Island National Guard since 2001.

In his eulogy, Major General Kevin McBride, commander of the Rhode Island National Guard, said Weichel should be remembered as a hero who acted without a second thought for his safety, saving the boy from certain death. The military had previously reported the child was a girl.

Weichel leaves a son and two daughters.

“Dennis Weichel had the courage of a warrior, but that isn’t what drove him to save Zaillah,’’ McBride said. “What drove Dennis to save that child was the heart of a father.

“The dictionary defines a hero as a person of remarkable bravery who is admired for noble deeds. Dennis was incredibly brave. He twice volunteered to serve his country in a war zone. And that is how you should remember him, as a hero, a brave solider who embodied the best of us all.’’

Weichel was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and NATO Service Medal Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon RI Star. He was buried with full military honors at the state Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.

He mobilized with Company C, First Battalion, 143d Infantry Regiment, to Camp Atterbury in Indiana in November and was deployed to Afghanistan in early March.

McBride said that Weichel was proud of a Superman tattoo on his right arm and that his fiancée Ashley recalled that he referred to himself as the superhero at times. “Given what we know today, that was not too far from the truth about Dennis,’’ McBride said.

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