|SFC Robert J. Richardson|
SFC Robert J. Richardson, known by many as Sarge, is the namesake of the new middle school at 60th and Karlov, built to alleviate overcrowding at nearby Peck and Pasteur schools. The three-story building will accommodate as many as 1,500 students—almost all of whom will transfer from Peck and Pasteur when Richardson opens in early January.
The announcement about the new school’s name was made last week at a ceremony attended by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-22nd), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, 23rd Ward Ald. Michael R. Zalewski, Chicago Public Schools representatives, school parents and students, and dozens of members of Richardson’s extended family—including his 98-year-old sister, Eleanore Chambers.
“We are overjoyed that our uncle will be a permanent part of
the community that we have spent so much of our lives in,” said Richardson’s grand-niece, Kelly Salzburg, a Southwest Side resident who spoke for the family at the ceremony. “Today and every day, Sarge will be a hero to his family, his students and his comrades. I have never met a man more proud to serve his country or more proud to serve the youth of Chicago.”
Born in 1930, Richardson joined the Army in 1948 and served in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere in a 25-year military career as a paratrooper and combat infantryman that saw him earn the Purple Heart, three Bronze Stars and many other medals and citations.
In Korea, he was credited with saving the life of a badly wounded fellow soldier, getting him to safety while under heavy enemy fire in battle.
His Army career cut short by medical necessity in 1973,
Richardson returned to Chicago and served for more than 25 years in high schools in the city, teaching JROTC to a new generation of military recruits—most notably at Lincoln Park High School.
In 1998, when failing health forced him to retire, Salzburg moved him to the Clearing area “so we could help him out,” she said. “For the next 17 years my children and I were his caregivers. He was a faithful parishioner at St. Symphorosa and could be found in the front pew nearly every day for many years until he could not drive any more.”
Richardson lived his final two years in assisted care at Autumn Green near 67th and Cicero. He died in April 2015 at age 85. He was preceded in death by his wife, Hildegarda (nee Kassas), and daughter, Kimberly.
“We all need a little bit of Sarge in our lives and hope that his legacy of being the best you can be and instilling that upon others, and being a positive person despite the curveballs life throws you will carry on forever; and his love, patience and never-ending support for Chicago’s students will surround the teachers and children who are within the walls of the Robert J. Richardson School,” Salzburg said at the ceremony.
(Editor’s note: Kelly Salzburg’s complete comments pasted below.)
Good afternoon. My name is Kelly Salzburg and I am the great niece of Robert J. Richardson. On behalf of his family, we would like to thank everyone who made today a reality.
Robert J. Richardson (who we called “Sarge”) was born in 1930 and was the youngest of six children. His dream was to be a soldier and follow in his brothers footsteps. In 1948 he achieved that dream and enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he would go on to have a 25-year career. While stationed in Germany, he met and married his soulmate and best friend, Hildegarda. They had a short but happy life together and were blessed with a baby girl to make their life complete.
Sarge suffered unimaginable heartbreak in his life; he watched comrades die, and buried his wife and daughter, but he always remained strong, devoted to his faith and embraced the love his family and friends offered. He focused on the positive aspects of his life, whistling away and maintaining his sense of humor. The strong, brave soldier we loved and admired became weak and fragile and passed in 2015.
He always aspired to be the best soldier he could be and spent two years in Korea and two one-year tours in Vietnam. He told stories of marching for days with wet boots and jungle rot and of the mosquitos and intestinal bugs. We heard stories of the enemies attacks and surprise ambushes on our U.S. soldiers. He told of the friends he lost, and the suffering of those that were wounded under heavy fire. A soldier never hesitates to sacrifice their own life to save their fallen comrades. No soldier’s life is worth any less than your own, YOU are worth no more than the comrade at your side he told us – “it’s just what you do." It’s a brotherhood. Many times he was certain he was going to die, but somehow, some way, he was spared.
Sarge was a Senior Parachutist, Combat Infantryman and was proud to serve with the 82nd and 101st Airborne during his career. As a Sergeant First Class he expected nothing of his men that he wouldn’t do himself. His lengthy list of awards is testament to the soldier he was:
(1) Purple Heart
(2) Bronze Stars
(2) Army Commendation Medals
(3) Vietnam Cross of Gallantry (Unit Citation)
And the list goes on with numerous other awards and letters of commendation.
After Sarge passed away, I received a phone call from the son of our uncle's friend, Sgt. Major Rovano. He had been our uncle's friend for as long as I could remember and only knew they were in the service together.
Brian told me in Korea his dad had been severely wounded and was bleeding out from the head and torso. Sarge came upon him while they were under heavy fire and didn’t hesitate to get him to safety. No man is left behind. Brian told me his father would not be here today if not for the bravery and actions of our uncle. Sarge never told this story to us – as he was simply doing his job and “did what a soldier was supposed to do." They had a 65-year friendship from that moment on.
When Sarge retired from the military, he jumped at the chance to teach JROTC at Chicago Public Schools. He worked at many high schools in Chicago over 25 years, but most notable for him was Lincoln Park High School, where he retired from. He took those students under his wing and was a mentor and hero to them.
We had no idea of the impact Sarge had made on so many students' lives. Many former students attended his services and sent letters of support for the school naming. They told stories of how he commanded respect but was still “human” to them.
Failure was not an option for his students, and they were expected to succeed. Their personal successes at school, at home, and at drill competitions were his successes. Sarge was their champion and always stood by them no matter what – always encouraging them to strive for more and be the best they could be. He BELIEVED in them – something that many of his students had never experienced before.
His students wrote: “only once in a lifetime does a man of such high integrity, love and concern for others come into your life and makes such a positive impact, a permanent mark; not only for a moment but for a lifetime." Sarge instilled in them that “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching." He was never late, never absent, never angry and always had a smile. He was truly happy teaching these students no matter how hard they made it for him.
Today and every day Sarge will be a hero to his family, his students and his comrades. I have never met a man more proud to serve his country or more proud to serve the youth of Chicago. His years as a soldier were matched equally with teaching JROTC as the fondest memories of his life.
To all the 82nd and 101st Airborne, to all the service men and women of our country; we share this honor with you – your sacrifices and dedication to this country have not gone unnoticed. To the teachers who go above and beyond and dedicate their lives to making a difference; we share this honor with you – your never ending efforts to mold children's lives and encourage them to succeed have not gone unnoticed.
Hubbard Field is a familiar place to many of Sarge's family members. Many of us have roots in this community. We are overjoyed our uncle will be a permanent part of the community that we have spent so much of our lives in.
We all need a little bit of “Sarge” in our lives and hope that his legacy of being the best you can be and instilling that upon others, and being a positive person despite the curve balls life throws you will carry on forever; and his love, patience and never-ending support for Chicago’s students will surround the teachers and children who are within the walls of the Robert J. Richardson School.
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