Army Spc. Robert M. Rieckhoff
Died March 18, 2010 serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom
26, of Kenosha, Wis.; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.; died March 18 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenade fire.
(The following is taken from www.kenoshanews.com of Mar. 26, 2010) Roland and Barbara Garwood embraced tightly amid a cluster of 15 family members on the tarmac Friday at Kenosha Regional Airport.
They were there to welcome home their son, Spc. Robert M. “Robbie” Rieckhoff, killed March 18 in Baghdad by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The family’s sobbing drifted beyond the Patriot Guard Riders, Warrior Watch Riders and others bearing U.S. flags, all having come to welcome Robbie home.
Standing alone, just beyond the flag bearers, Dick Oass of Kenosha, a Marines Corp veteran wounded in the Vietnam War who never met Robbie or his family, wanted to be among those welcoming him home. “I made up my mind these young men and women wouldn’t be treated the way we were when we came back. Not if I can do anything about it,” Oass said.
At 1:20 p.m., a lone white charter jet touched down and slowly taxied to within a few yards from the family. A side hatch opened, the flag-draped silver coffin came into view, and renewed sobbing washed over the tarmac as a 10th Mountain Division honor guard marched forward and an Army chaplain prayed over the casket.
Then the honor guards, three to a side, lifted the casket and march-stepped to the waiting hearse. Family, led by Roland, Barbara and Barbara’s mother, Judith Nelson — “Grandma Judy” to Robbie — tearfully welcomed 26-year-old Robbie home, each gently stroking the unopened coffin.
This wasn’t the welcome they planned. That was supposed to be in June when his third tour in Iraq was to end and his unit would fly back to Fort Drum in New York. “We were all going to fly to New York and welcome him back. We were all set to go,” Roland said.
“The first time he came back (to Fort Drum) from Iraq, there was nobody there to welcome him home,” Barbara said. “So, I gave him my word we’d be in New York. He told me he just bought a new car, and I believed in my heart we’d see him in June. He told me not to worry, everything was quiet where he was at. In fact, he was hoping there would be more action.”
His sister, Sheila Sartorius, 27, also looked forward to the planned June reunion for Robbie. “This time, we all said we’d be there,” she said, before sadly adding, “today, he got his wish.”
Last home for a two-week leave in January, Robbie bought gifts for the family. “He blew five grand in two weeks, all on the family,” Barbara said. “He was like that. If he had four dollars and somebody needed five, he’d go find another dollar and give it to them.”
Others shared similar thoughts of the Tremper High School graduate they described as fun loving, generous, dedicated to pursuing an Army career. By December, he would have marked 10 years in the Army and already had re-enlisted for another five.
His family and friends were left to reflect on such things as the police-escorted procession wended its somber way to Piasecki-Althaus Funeral Home.
Oncoming traffic pulled to the side of the road. Some drivers exited vehicles to stand with local residents, many wearing emblems and regalia identifying them as military veterans. Just west of Green Bay Road, employees in dark blue workshop uniforms stood at attention, squad like, outside Christ Iron Works, where the flag flew at half-mast.
Cars, vans, SUVs, fire engines, police squads and bikes, and Harley-Davidsons two abreast, some 50-75 vehicles in all, proceeded north onto Green Bay Road, east on Washington Road and north once more on 39th Avenue. Along the way, men, women and children, waved flags, executed hand salutes or held hands over hearts until the procession stopped at the funeral home across from Bradford High School.
There, Kenosha Fire Department’s Matt Martin, in Scottish highlander regalia, stood with fire crews dressed in full turnout gear, his bagpipes accompanying the arrival with the mournful strains of “Rowen Tree” and “Going Home.” The military veteran escorts unfurled their flags, and community residents who came to honor Robbie’s service and sacrifice bowed heads as the chaplain again prayed.
“I was surprised so many people wanted to show their respect for him even though he didn’t know them,” Sartorius said. “ We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome. He didn’t die in vain.”
Only family accompanied pall bearers from the 10th Mountain Division, Robbie’s unit, inside the funeral home, where the family learned the casket could remain open, allowing them to see and touch Robbie’s body, bedecked in his Army dress greens. However, due to the severity of his fatal wound, his head would remain enwrapped in spotless white gauze, preventing them from seeing — identifying — the facial features they so longed to see.
Until Barbara can at least see the sleeve-like dragon tattooed on Robbie’s right forearm, she won’t be at peace knowing for sure her son is lying at rest. “All I had was a piece of paper for a week,” Barbara said. “I went to bed one day. Then, I woke up and didn’t have a son. That’s never going to change.”