There are two circles that form when someone dies. The inner circle consists of the family and friends of that person - those who knew them best and loved them dearly. The outer circle consists of the rest of us, and it is from that perspective that I mourn the death of Rod Richardson. I remember when he was simply known as “one of the Richardson kids”, back when he played sports, back when he dazzled the girls, back when life was simple and “dragging Main“ was the thing to do. And long before he became known as Lieutenant Colonel Rod Richardson, USMC, or by his nickname “ K2 ”.
I remember Rod working alongside his siblings - Deb, Pam, Mike and Sandy - at their family restaurant, the “Cozy Café”. The memory is still so clear. Their dad, Gene, is standing in the kitchen, frying the best hamburgers in town. Their mom, Reta, is standing behind the counter, a pencil caught in her red hair. The kids are waiting on customers and bustling back and forth, bussing table and handing out menus. I imagine that it was there, working beside his family, that Rod learned how to be a team player and a leader - two abilities that would serve him well in his lifetime.
Throughout the following years I would hear snippets about Rod and the life he was living far from our city limits. I knew he had married a girl named Rita, he had joined the military, traveled the world and was one of the “good guys” watching out for the rest of us. But I never saw him again. Not until the wee hours of Monday morning, when I found myself looking at a picture of him on the Internet, entitled “Hilla-Najaf”. I don't know when the picture was taken, but his face was so familiar, his hair still brown though his temples were graying, the handsomeness of his youth still evident. As I looked at the picture and as I read what his comrades had to say about him I wished I had known him, too. Rod was so respected and loved by the men he commanded and the soldiers he fought beside. He was honest and forthright, he instilled confidence in those around him, and he was an example of life lived with passion.
From my place in the outer circle, I watched the inner circle gather together over the past week. They came from many places to say “goodbye” to Rod. Friday evening I drove by the mortuary, wanting to stop and pay my respects, but not doing so because there were so many people already there. Out in the parking lot, there were clusters of men talking and laughing, celebrating their friend's life even as they were mourning his death. I hoped that some of them were looking at the western sky, seeing the world that Rod once lived in. Night had already fallen, but there remained a ribbon of orange on the horizon. And up in the darkened sky there was but one star visible, one star shining down on that parking lot.
And then it was Saturday afternoon, and with my family I was standing on the side of a street that Rod had traveled so many times in his youth. Each of us were holding an American flag, the symbol of Rod's passion and sacrifice, as the hearse, his family and his friends passed by on their way to the cemetery. I wondered then if Rod would have been surprised at the number of people who were honoring him that day.
I continued to feel the need to step beyond the outer circle, and so I went to the cemetery Sunday afternoon. It was quiet out there. It was peaceful, it was windswept and the sky was overcast. I knelt down beside Rod's grave, beside the many arrangements of flowers that covered the mound of dirt. I thought of him, his mom and dad, his siblings, his wife, his friends. I could only imagine the adventures he must have had on his journeys to distant countries. And I wondered about the people whose lives he had touched and whose lives he had saved. For a moment, I thought I heard “Taps” being played as it was at his funeral, its echo coming from somewhere far away, perhaps from Iraq or Afghanistan . And I found that the only words I could speak out loud at that moment were “Thank you, Rod”. As I stood up, I plucked a solitary yellow rose from the many laying there, and as I held it gently in my hands, I thought how Rod was like that rose - just one of the many, many men and women who have become our fallen heroes. And as I looked towards town - the place that Rod once called “home”- I remembered these words. “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.” You will never be forgotten, Rod.
Boise City News