BAY PINES — Dozens of relatives and friends of St. Petersburg native and controversial Marine Cpl. Rob Richards gathered at Bay Pines National Cemetery Friday to mourn his passing.
Richards, 28, died Aug. 13 from what a family spokesman described as possible complications from a new mix of medications the Purple Heart recipient was taking.
As loved ones and service members gathered at the funeral, workers at the cemetery said it was the most crowded they had seen the facility. One after another, family members stood at the front of the crowd and reminisced about the kind of person Richards was - one who was kind, one who stood out, one who made his mark.
After being cremated, he will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in February 2015.
Richards was living in North Carolina at the time of his death, and his body was escorted from there by the American Infidels Motorcycle Club to St. Petersburg. Richards was a member of the club’s Jacksonville, N.C., chapter.
When the escort reached the South Carolina border, the South Carolina Police Association, consisting of state police, sheriff’s deputies and local police, met them at the South of the Border tourist attraction and escorted Richards to Florida.
Richards was born at Bayfront Medical Center. He received the Purple Heart for injuries he received during several tours of duty in Afghanistan. As a Marine scout sniper, he served for 6 1/2 years, three tours in all, before being medically retired due to his injuries, which included shrapnel in his neck and near loss of a leg.
Richards “displayed his bravery and tactical prowess time and time again,” a GoFundMe site created in his honor says.
But his wartime heroics were eclipsed in the public eye by a video he and other Marines made showing them urinating on dead Taliban fighters while on patrol in Helmand Province on July 27, 2011, which the media picked up the following January.
While it sparked outrage from military leaders, according to the Marine Corps Times newspaper, what ensued 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.
On Jan. 29, 2013, Richards was charged with conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the armed forces, among other things. He was punished at a summary court-martial Aug. 7, 2013, a Marines spokesman said. He pleaded guilty to violating military law and was demoted to corporal.
Three other Marines also were charged and disciplined as a result of the incident.
To his family, friends and fellow Marines, Richards, was a “Marine’s Marine,” Houston attorney Geoff Womack told the Tribune recently. Womack, with his father, Guy, represented Richards in his legal battles regarding the video. “There is no better compliment or description,” Womack said. “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.”
Richards 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,” his obituary says.
He is survived by his wife, as well as his mother, Cate Richards; his maternal grandparents, Army Col. Bill Collin (Ret.) and Ann Collins; his paternal grandmother, M.D. Richards; his father-in-law and mother-in-law, R. Edward and Jan W. Bradford; and many uncles, aunts and cousins.
Preceding him in death were his father, Dean Turner Richards, and his paternal grandfather, Robert L. Richards. Both were veterans.
A memorial fund has been set up to “contribute to causes that were dear to Rob.” As of Friday, it had nearly reached its $12,000 goal.