Family overwhelmed with community response –
By Patricia Beech –
When U.S. Army veteran Justin Richmond left his home in Manchester four months ago, he was pursuing his dream to serve others. He wanted to help his fellow veterans – the men and women who wear the scars of battle on their bodies and the wounds of war in their minds.
A Specialist in the Military Police, Richmond was a Bronze Star recipient who served two tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. His older brother Dusty, who served alongside him in Iraq, says helping disabled veterans was Justin’s way of dealing with the aftermath of war.
“After coming home from Iraq, we both had a hard time adjusting,” he says. “It was a common bond we shared – we understood how hard it is for veterans to transition back into civilian life, and Justin’s way of dealing with it was to help others.”
Justin, who died unexpectedly last week, found his calling working at the Dancing Sky Ranch, a non-profit, Minnesota-based organization that provides outdoor therapy to veterans, handicapped children, and others with disabilities.
“He was the kind of guy who liked doing for others,” says his younger brother, Dillon Raines. “Anytime someone needed him, day or night, freezing cold or blistering hot, he was always there for you.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 10, Dillon, who is a firefighter and paramedic, joined a fleet of emergency and law enforcement vehicles in a two-mile long procession escorting his family as they brought Justin home for the last time.
“I was humbled,” he said. “In my wildest dreams I never imagined the support others have shown our family. I wish it had been under different circumstances, but I’m happy we were able to bring him home like this.”
Richmond and the owner of the Dancing Sky Ranch were traveling from Texas back to Minnesota with a pull-behind camper. Stopping for the night to rest, both tragically succumbed to carbon-monoxide poisoning.
The family, unsure how they should bring Justin home, turned to local veteran Paul Brown, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Army.
“Dillon contacted me and asked if I could help,” says Brown. “I did it for one reason, Justin wore the same boots I wore. In the Army we take care of our own, that’s just what we do.”
Brown posted the family’s plight on Facebook.
“I was amazed,” Brown said. “This all started with one little post on Facebook, and people really came through for Justin and his family.”
Brown joined the Richmond family as they traveled with Justin’s flag-draped coffin from Cincinnati’s CVG Airport to Adams County.
Dillon called the long ride home “a touching experience.”
“It’s one thing when you’re driving down the interstate and you see a funeral procession go by, most people don’t take the time to pull over, they just keep on keepin’ on because they all have such busy lives,” he said. “But when we got into Ohio, there were passenger cars and semi-trucks that were pulled over and the drivers had stepped out of their vehicles to pay their respects as we went by.”
As they traveled through Hamilton County, Clermont County, Brown, and Adams County, people lined the roadway, some holding American flags while others stood at attention saluting their fallen brother in arms.
“It was amazing how many people showed up on a work day,” said Richmond’s brother, Colt. “The support they showed as we brought him home was just incredible.”
Colt calls his younger brother a “remarkable guy who would give you the shirt off his back”.
“He loved people, and he had a million-dollar smile, no matter what was going on, he always had a smile on his face.”
Richmond was a graduate of West Union High School where he earned the nickname “Mario” while playing on the school’s baseball team.
“He loved baseball,” says his sister, Alyssa Boggs. “And everyone called him Mario because he ran like the character Mario in the old Nintendo 64 game, a lot of his friends still call him Mario.”
She says the honor procession was “a really big help” for her family.
“We knew he was gone, but it was difficult to have closure until we got him home,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it must be like for military families who do not get to bring their loved ones home to say goodbye. It meant so much to all of us to bring him home in this way.”
In addition to baseball, she says Justin had a passion for hunting and the outdoors. Working at the Dancing Sky Ranch gave him the opportunity to share those passions with disabled veterans and those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as handicapped children.
“The camp had horses, hunts, and even a special grandstand for the disabled,” says Dusty. “They used Equestrian Therapy to help soldiers bond and transition back into civilian life and helping them meant so much to Justin because he understood what they were going through.”
Though his young life was cut short at 31 years old, Dusty says that his younger brother “made a difference in the world.”
“He’s helped so many people, in and outside the army, me and my brothers and sisters – he was always there for us.”
“I had 23 years to spend with him,” says brother Dillon. “We fought like cats and dogs sometimes, but at the end of the day, we never walked away without giving each other a hug and saying I love you.”