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Services in St. Pete for decorated Marine who stirred outrage

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Published:   |   Updated: August 18, 2014 at 11:40 PM

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TAMPA — The body of Marine Cpl. Rob Richards, a St. Petersburg native and war hero who touched off international outrage through a video showing him and three others urinating on dead Taliban fighters, is coming home later this week.

Richards, 28, died in North Carolina on Aug. 13 from what a family spokesman described as possible complications from a new mix of medications the Purple Heart recipient was taking.

A visitation is scheduled Thursday at the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg followed by a service Friday at Bay Pines National Cemetery. After being cremated, he will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in February 2015.

Richards, a Marine sniper scout who was injured during his service in Afghanistan, left behind two legacies that tell a larger story of the 13 years of war that have polarized many in the U.S.

To his family, friends and fellow Marines, Richards, was a ‘Marine’s Marine,’” said Houston attorney Geoff Womack, who with his father Guy represented Richards during his legal battles over the video. “There is no better compliment or description. Richards was a tenacious warrior through three combat tours. Rob lost some great friends in all three deployments — nearly giving his own life during his second.”

One measure of his commitment to the Marines and his country, Womack said, is that Richards returned to combat less than a year after he was nearly killed there.

Richards’ wife Raechel Richards could not be reached for comment. Her husband was described as “a dedicated and loving husband, a mother’s hero, a selfless leader, and a faithful friend,” according to a GoFundMe site created to start a memorial fund in Richards’ honor.

After serving 6 1/2 years in the Marine Corps, Richards was medically retired because of injuries he suffered in Afghanistan, the website says.

Richards “displayed his bravery and tactical prowess time and time again,” the website says. “While the media attempts to immortalize him as one of the Marines known for urinating on Taliban corpses, his family, friends, loved ones, and patriots across America immortalize him for the skilled warrior and genuine honorable man he was.”

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Those introduced to Richards through the YouTube video that surfaced in January 2012, and through the ensuing news coverage, knew him only as a Marine punished for his actions while on patrol in Helmand Province on July 27, 2011.

The video showed Richards and three other Marines urinating over the bodies of three Taliban fighters, according to the Pentagon. On the one hand, it sparked outrage from military leaders. On the other, according to the Marine Corps Times newspaper, it raised concerns that Marine leaders were out to get the four men.

“I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the time.

Panetta ordered the Marine Corps and Gen. John Allen, then head of the International Security Assistance Force, to investigate.

“This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold,” Panetta said.

Richards was charged Jan. 29, 2013, with dereliction of duty, violation of a lawful general order, and conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the armed forces, according to the Marines.

“The alleged misconduct centers on Richards taking improper photographs of human casualties, including a video recording of him and other Marines urination on human casualties, indiscriminate firing of weapons, failure to properly supervise fellow Marines, and failure to report misconduct,” said Maj. John Caldwell, a Marine spokesman, said Monday.

Richards was punished at a summary court-martial Aug. 7, 2013, Caldwell said.

Richards pleaded guilty to violating military law and was demoted to corporal, Caldwell said.

Other Marines were charged as well in December and January of 2013.

Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin and Staff Sgt. Edward W. Deptola were tried by special court-martial at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Caldwell said.

Chamblin pleaded guilty to charges related to urinating on a deceased enemy combatant, failing to supervise junior Marines and wrongfully posing for photographs with human casualties. Under a pre-trial agreement, he forfeited $500 and was reduced to the rank of sergeant, Caldwell said.

Deptola pleaded guilty to the same charges, and to a charge of indiscriminately firing a recovered enemy machine gun. Under a pre-trial agreement, Deptola was reduced to the rank of sergeant.

Capt. James V. Clement was to have been tried at a special court-martial for dereliction of duty and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline and of a nature to bring discredit to the armed forces. But on Sept. 6, 2013, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck approved withdrawing and dismissing the charges against Clement.

Glueck determined that Clement’s conduct would be more appropriately addressed at a Board of Inquiry. Based on that inquiry, Clement was honorably discharged, Caldwell said.

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Richards was born Feb. 25, 1986, at Bayfront Medical Center, according to his obituary. He graduated from Florida Air Academy in Melbourne in 2004, and in January 2007, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Sometime that year, he “married the love of his life, Raechel,” the obituary says.

His father died and his mother lives in Texas. Richards and his wife still have relatives living in the Tampa Bay area, Womack said.

Richards’ death was “in no way a suicide,” Womack said.

He is believed he died as the result of a new mix of medications he was taking, he said. The family is waiting for the results of a toxicology screen that could take up to three months.

“Richards has been under 24-hour watch by his fellow Marines, active duty, wounded, and retired,” said Womack. “These Marines have been standing post outside the funeral home — simply to show respect and honor Richards one last time.”

The body will be escorted by the American Infidels Motorcycle Club en route from Jones Funeral Home to St. Petersburg. Richards was a member and sergeant at arms for the club’s Jacksonville, N.C., chapter.”

Once the escort reaches the North Carolina-South Carolina border, the South Carolina Police Association, consisting of state police, sheriffs and local police, will meet Richards at the South of the Border tourist attraction and escort Richards to Florida, Womack said.

Officials from the Patriot Guard Riders, created to keep the Westboro Baptist Church from interfering with military funerals, will take part in the ride as individuals but not as a group, said Thomas “T-Man” Brown, the group’s assistant state captain.

Visitation will be held at the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, 2201 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg, 5-8 p.m. Thursday, funeral director Joan Kershaw said. Funeral services will be 9:15 a.m. Friday at Bay Pines National Cemetery, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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