I ordinarily donâ€™t post or even link to my Salt Lake Tribune column here on T&S. This one is a little different, though, because itâ€™s about an extraordinary young Mormon man, and the Tribune being the Tribune, I couldnâ€™t include all the Mormon elements I might have liked to.
First, the column as it appeared this past Sunday:
Roy Lee Richardson was the kind of young man any family, state and people would be proud to have as their representative.
Born in Alberta, Canada, Richardson moved with his family to Salt Lake City when he was a child, and graduated from Highland High in 1963. He served an LDS mission to Great Britain, then entered the University of Utah where he was a student athlete and musician. He entered the U.S. Army in 1967, winning honors as outstanding trainee in basic training and as an honor graduate from the Armyâ€™s Ranger School.
First Lt. Richardson left for Vietnam in January 1970.
Richard J. Ventola, then of the Bronx, N.Y., and now of New Jersey, remembers Richardson was the first Utahn and the first Mormon he had ever encountered when the two officers, both serving with the 101st Airborne Division, met in Vietnam that January.
â€œHe was a very decent person,â€ Ventola recalls. â€œHe seemed very concerned about things. I was impressed by his moorings.â€
On May 9, less than five months into his tour of duty, Richardsonâ€™s platoon was ambushed by an enemy force using hand and rocket-propelled grenades. Richardson moved through enemy fire to place his men in defensive positions and to direct defensive aerial artillery.
As the battle continued, Richardson ran through withering small-arms fire to pull one of his critically wounded men to
safety, and was mortally wounded himself.
For his â€œexceptionally valorous actionsâ€ and â€œextraordinary heroism,â€ Richardson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Only the Medal of Honor is a higher award for valor.
â€œI was very upsetâ€ to learn of Richardsonâ€™s death the next day, Ventola recalls. â€œI wrote something about him, and always wanted to deliver it to his family, saying I thought he was a decent guy. There were many things in Vietnam you wanted to forget â€“ knowing Richardson was one of the things I didnâ€™t want to forget.â€
He tried several times in the past few years to find Richardsonâ€™s family, without success.
Ventolaâ€™s brother-in-law, Hugh Massey, determined that Richardson had been buried in Salt Lake City, and Ventola and his wife, Lynn, decided to visit the grave this past December as they drove cross-country to a family wedding in Sacramento. They found Richardsonâ€™s grave in the City Cemetery, next to that of his father.
While viewing Salt Lake City from the observation floor of the LDS Church Office Building, Ventola told his story to a hostess, who escorted the Ventolas to the church archives to see if anything more could be learned. Librarian Larry Skidmore helped them locate Richardsonâ€™s obituary, which listed the names of Richardsonâ€™s brothers and sisters, and the Ventolas continued their trip to Sacramento.
With the help of the Internet, Ventola was able to contact Legrand W. Richardson of Salt Lake City, a brother to Roy Lee Richardson, and the two men spoke by telephone last week. Legrand, who joined the Navy at the same time his brother entered the Army, was serving aboard a ship in southeast Asia when he received word of Richardsonâ€™s death.
The two men shared memories of Richardson. Ventola learned from Legrand that a few years after his death, the Army had named an officersâ€™ hall at Fort Campbell, Ky. (headquarters of the 101st Airborne), after Richardson, and had flown several members of the family from Utah to Kentucky to witness the dedication.
Legrand also told Ventola that other old comrades had contacted the family through the years, all with similar good memories of Richardson. The family appreciated every phone call, every letter.
Roy Lee Richardson has been gone now much longer than he lived, yet he has not been forgotten by his family, or even by some of those who knew him only briefly. May that thought comfort the families of other Utah servicemen and women who gave their lives too soon.
Mr. Ventola stressed both in our first meeting and in follow-up telephone calls that Roy Lee Richardson was the first Mormon he had ever met. Although they were together only a matter of days, really, before they went to separate assignments, Richardson took Ventola to a church meeting â€“ Ventola, who is Roman Catholic, remembers being surprised to meet four or five â€œpriestsâ€ at the LDS meeting.
Some of what he learned from Richardson about Mormon beliefs was the importance of â€œhaving peopleâ€™s family stay together. Children were very important to them. And the fact that they abstained from sexual activity, until married. It impressed me, coming from a large city where people didnâ€™t emulate that. I didnâ€™t know there was anybody in the world like that.â€
He had also thought, from what little he knew of Mormons, that we were conscientious objectors. Richardson explained that while we didnâ€™t like war, we did serve when called.
Early in the morning, as soon as the Sunday paper was out, I started getting emails, more response than Iâ€™ve had with any other column. A sample:
From a woman:
â€œI knew Lee Richardson. Your article about him was forwarded to me by my sister. It has flooded my mind with wonderful memories of this fine young man. He was four years older than I, and he lived in my neighborhood. Lee was my Sunday School teacher when I was an older teen or young adult just before he went to Vietnam. I knew him to be a handsome, charismatic young man with a great ability to teach us and keep our interest. I believe he was everything he appeared to be â€“ noble, conscientious, capable, grounded and charming.
â€œI was devastated when I learned he had been killed and will be forever grateful for the good influence he had on my young life. Thank you for this article. It is something I will place with my treasured family papers so that my four now-adult sons can know of Leeâ€™s noble life â€“ this worthy young man who influenced the world for good.â€
From a man:
â€œThank you very much for writing about Lee Richardson. He was one of my best friends in high school and the beginning of college. We kept in touch until shortly before his death. It warmed my heart to hear of Richard Ventola, who was obviously touched by Lee in ways that transcend his death.
â€œOn May 7, 1999, the 29th anniversary of Leeâ€™s death, 16 of his high school and college friends gathered at my home to remember Lee and reminisce on how he influenced each of us. We taped the evening and wrote the comments in a 17 page folder we called â€œRemembering Lee Richardson.â€ After that evening I was especially impressed with the great influence Lee had on so many people, despite the relatively short time we knew him.â€
From a young family member:
â€œHe has been dearly missed by his family and friends. He died 6 years before I was born, so I have never met him. All my life I have heard stories about my uncle Lee and what a great man he was. I look forward to the day that I do get to meet him.â€
He almost seems too good to be real, doesnâ€™t he? But everybodyâ€™s memories agree. Had he lived, I suspect we all might be familiar with his name. As it is, I wonder just what he has accomplished in the last 37 years.