Casper Veteran Loses Home, Daughter’s Ashes And Purple Heart In House Fire

As a war veteran, Phil Pulanco understands hard times. In Vietnam, the former Marine stepped on a booby trap. Now the retiree and his wife are trying to pick up the pieces after losing their home and everything they owned in a fire.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

March 30, 20244 min read

Phil Pulanco continues to contemplate next steps following a fire that claimed all his and his wife’s possessions on March 9. The Vietnam veteran’s Purple Heart was among the family treasures that were destroyed.
Phil Pulanco continues to contemplate next steps following a fire that claimed all his and his wife’s possessions on March 9. The Vietnam veteran’s Purple Heart was among the family treasures that were destroyed. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — As a war veteran, Phil Pulanco, 76, understands hard times. In Vietnam, the former Marine stepped on a booby trap.

Now the retiree and his wife, Connie, are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after losing their home and everything they owned in a fire March 9. Among the lost are the ashes of their deceased daughter and his Purple Heart decoration.

Pulanco said he lived in the rural Natrona County mobile home on Enberg Road about 18 miles west of Casper for 21 years and was trying to thaw out pipes with a kerosene heater that day. He mistakenly placed the heater too close to the pipes and the next thing he knew his home was on fire.

The couple lost a lifetime of treasures and valuables.

“We lost my daughter’s urn,” he said, sharing that she passed away Dec. 31, 2002.

In addition to all the possessions of everyday life, they lost precious photos, his wife’s mother’s wedding ring and special pieces of jewelry that Pulanco had given his wife over their 47 years of marriage.

As a Marine veteran for three years, followed by 26 years in the Wyoming National Guard, Pulanco’s uniforms, hats, medals and rings also burned. He said he knows how to replace some of those things, but there was one significant medal that he is unsure about.

“The only thing that I really lost was my Purple Heart,” he said. “It burned up into crystals.”

Flashback

Pulanco said he hopes to soon figure out from a veteran’s office how he might be able to get a new one. He is glad he had a copy of his DD 214 in his car visor. It’s the defining document for veterans that is used to prove their service time.

Pulanco received his Purple Heart following a 1968 incident where he was on patrol as the point man of his platoon in central Vietnam.

They had slept the night before in a graveyard.

“I had a premonition that night that something was going to happen, but I didn’t know,” he said. “As soon as I stepped over the berm line heading into the graveyard, I stepped on a booby trap.”

The injuries he suffered from that got him out of a Vietnam and would give him a 20% disability, but that did not stop him from serving in the military police for seven years with the Wyoming National Guard and then as a plumber for the remainder of his guard career.

  • Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground.
    Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground. (Anthony Duncan via GoFundMe)
  • Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground.
    Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground. (Anthony Duncan via GoFundMe)
  • Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground.
    Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground. (Anthony Duncan via GoFundMe)
  • Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground.
    Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground. (Anthony Duncan via GoFundMe)
  • Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground.
    Paul and Connie Pulanco have been married for 47 years, and lost everything in a May 9 fire that burned their home to the ground. (Anthony Duncan via GoFundMe)

Nothing Left

A native of Casper, Pulanco worked for more than 20 years as a pipe insulator for two companies before retirement.

Since the fire, Pulanco said couple have received aid from the Red Cross and the Veteran’s Administration is helping him with the medications he needs that were lost.

For now, the couple have moved in with their daughter in Casper and are trying to figure out the next steps. Pulanco said his wife has not been able to return to the trailer since an initial visit after the fire.

The couple’s horse, Buddy, was not affected by the fire, but it is hard for Pulanco to make the 18-mile trip from Casper to feed him.

“Some people are going to come and get him and put him on their land,” he said.

Another neighbor is going to help clean up the burned remains of his trailer home.

While his war experiences have caused him to have “flashbacks” from time to time, Pulanco characterizes himself as the “rock” in the latest crisis the couple has faced together.

“I just take it as it comes,” he said. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

A GoFundMe has been established by the couple’s grandson that as of Friday afternoon had raised $7,343 of its $25,000 goal. Pulanco said he and his wife appreciate those who have helped.

“Me and her are in our 70s, we’ve been married 47 years and anything would help,” he said. “We are going to try and find another place, but it’s going to be hard to do.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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