Larry Poulin poses with some of the medals he received for his service to the country.
Larry Poulin is an American hero, but based on his living conditions one would not know it. Now 90, the WWII veteran and former POW has an array of medals including a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, which was presented to him by President Harry S. Truman. The walls of his home are lined with honors and accommodations from past presidents and governors.
But those same walls were falling down. “We got a call a few weeks back from one of our people, nicknamed Pumpkin Head. He told us about this veteran that was living in horrific conditions right here in Traverse City,” said Finster of the WKLT FM Omelette & Finster Morning Show. “After the show ended we went over and checked it out. The guy had a hole in his roof and water was leaking on his bed. The place looked liked it hadn’t been cleaned in years.”
COMING TO HELP
The next day Omelette & Finster put a call out to their listeners to help. In a matter of hours more than 75 volunteers agreed to help.
“We just wanted to replace his roof and before we knew it in 48 hours we gave his whole house a complete makeover,” said Omelette. “Not only a brand new roof, but new carpeting, new flooring and a new kitchen counter top, all new furniture, a new refrigerator and stove, new toilets and sinks, we completely repainted the house, replaced bad boards and drywall. We had people in cleaning every inch of that house, there were two 10 yard dumpsters of junk we got rid of. In all, close to $15,000 in improvements were made plus another $2,600 in cash was raised to help him with new clothes and to pay off some of his bills.”
Coast Guard Air Station personnel, local business people, and other concerned citizens stepped up making donations of cash, supplies and manpower. But the story doesn’t end there. With Veteran’s Day coming up on 11-11-11 (this Friday) one has to wonder how Larry Poulin found himself living in such conditions.
“It was appalling and the more we helped and looked into his situation we found that people had been taking advantage of him,” said Marcie Newton, co-founder of Angel Ambassadors, a non-profit that assist Northern Michigan Veterans.
“For example, the cleaning company was coming each week and charging him and not cleaning his house. Their excuse was he didn’t have cleaning supplies. The snowplow company was billing him for snowplow services in September. He hasn’t been to the eye doctor in years or a dentist in years. We have found other examples of people taking advantage of him as well.”
Angel Ambassadors has been busy making sure the right organizations will be looking after Poulin from here forward.
“We have been in touch with the Grand Traverse Commission on Aging and they will be assisting, Meals on Wheels and others will be making sure that Larry Poulin is well taken care of from now on,” said Newtown. “Larry had four children. One has passed away, another is dying of cancer and the other two are not actively involved in helping him. It is a tough subject for him to talk about. We are working with him to get all of his affairs in order including his financial and legal areas so he will never be in this situation again.”
As for Poulin, he was brought to tears by the actions of the community.
“I can’t believe all of these people did this for me,” said Poulin. “They kept coming up to me and thanking me for my service to our country. I was given a medal by the President, I met General McArthur and I received a lot of letters from a lot of important people thanking me for my service, but until all those people came over to my house - and I didn’t know a one of them - and did all that for me did I ever feel important. I am not sure I really deserve this.”
Omelette quickly responded. “Not only does Larry Poulin deserve this, we as a community owe it to him. He served our country from 1939 to 1945, and threeand-a-half of those years he spent in harsh conditions as a prisoner and essentially a slave to the Japanese military.”
Larry Poulin was born in Cheboygan in a home that was full of violence.
“My parents were drunk all the time and beat the crap out of my brother and me almost every day,” said Poulin. “The State eventually took us away and put us in a foster home. My first foster parents were not any better. They were criminals and ran a bootlegging operation during Prohibition and they beat us as well. Eventually we were taken in by foster parents in Traverse City.”
At the age of 16, Poulin joined the National Guard and when he turned 18, after graduating from high school, he joined the Navy.
“I figured based on the Navy having limited combat action in WWI that would be the case in WWII. Boy, was I wrong,” said Poulin. “We had more than 30 vessels sunk by the Japanese and so many of us in the Navy were moved to the front lines, myself included.”
That frontline duty ended up leading to his eventual capture by the Japanese.
“It became the worst nightmare of my life,” said Poulin. “A nightmare that has remained with me every day for the past 66 years.”
Editors Note: Next week Poulin shares how he survived living as a POW, being there the day the Japanese surrendered aboard the battleship USS Missouri, and his life in Traverse City after returning from WWII.