Part One: From Washburn to Washington, DC
This is the true story of Richard Casper, a U.S. Marine veteran and an artist.
As you listen to my story, I know that you will be shaking your head and blinking with incredulity, thinking to yourselves, “Oh Mother Goose, surely you are once again telling us a tall tale, stretching the truth one more time in the hopes of tickling our fancy and picking up a few new and easily amused readers.”
I assure you that Mother Goose is relating the ballad of Richard Casper just as I heard it from his own mouth and in his own words. Believe it or not…
When I was introduced to this lanky handsome Marine veteran at The Corner Bakery yesterday, he must have noticed the confused look on my face. Mother Goose was expecting somebody else.
I checked out his website prior to our meeting with my colleague, Russ Hopkins, and saw a photograph of a combat veteran with a major metal haircut and a half metal leg riding a total metal Harley down a black and white country road. I arrived at the coffee shop early, scanning the tables for that person — quite frankly, a person that I might feel some serious trepidation in meeting and sitting down with. Mother Goose did not see the rough, amputee veteran anywhere.
But here was a calm, smiling, relaxed young man with two natural and apparently God-given two legs. As it turned out, the veteran on the Harley is his friend, Jesse.
We took our coffees to the table and sat down. I pulled out my Mother Goose legal notepad and a pen, eagerly listening for the beginning of Richard’s story.
Here’s the first thing he said:
“I’m actually thankful for getting blown up in Iraq four times. I’m actually happier now being an artist rather than getting the business management degree I always thought I’d get.”
(Maybe you need to stop and read that quote again…)
Richard Casper grew up in the tiny town of Washburn, Illinois. The village website boasts a population of just under 2,000 people and includes a picture of a Vietnam War era helicopter and the assurance that they support the troops and veterans. That definitely warms the heart of Mother Goose!
They also have this wonderful and mysterious message on their history page: “Washburn has been home to actresses, opera singers, writers, mathematicians, musicians, poets, inventors, and a lot of very nice people.” Doesn’t that stir up some curiousity in your heart to learn more about Washburn and maybe even move there?
With an early childhood need to be one of the few, the chosen, and the proud, Richard Casper made an early-in-life decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps. His viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s classic war film, Full Metal Jacket, also added fuel to his Marine fire.
Richard told us that he was the first person in his generation in Washburn to join the service. Nobody enlisted before he did, and nobody enlisted after he did. His father and several relatives had served in the Navy and other branches of the Armed Forces, but that was a different time.
Because he was only seventeen, his parents were required to sign his enlistment papers. Though they were not exactly jumping up and down for joy at his decision to enlist, they supported him, knowing that he would enlist at the age of eighteen with or without their consent.
He left for boot camp and a life so far removed from this small farming community outside of Peoria that he might have been leaving Earth and heading for Mars.
Basic training at Camp Pendleton went very well for this recruit — in fact it went so well that he was “selected for testing” after graduation. At first somewhat apprehensive about what this might mean, Richard did very well with the various psychological evaluations.
In fact he did so well that he was chosen from hundreds of new Marines to serve our nation as one of the Presidential Guards. For fourteen months, he not only met President George W. Bush several times and was photographed with him, but also met former President George H.W. Bush as well as other top level dignitaries of our great nation. He guarded the President at the White House and Camp David.
As a token of thanksgiving for his faithful service to the President, Richard was invited to the Oval Office for a special meeting with President Bush. He was told that he could invite anyone else along for the experience. Of course, Richard brought his mom! They cherish that time as well as the autographed photograph of them with the President, commemorating Richard’s duties to America.
For most Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen, this type of an assignment would be the capstone of their service to America. Richard wanted more. He wanted to go to war. He requested a deployment to Iraq in 2006 when the fighting was the worst and the death toll for American troops was the highest. He wanted to be the one who found Saddam. He decided with great optimism that he could be the one to find Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. Department of Defense granted his wish.
Richard Casper was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in November 2006.
That’s when life suddenly got real serious for the young Marine.
(I hope you’ll return for the next installment in our exciting series, The Ballad of Richard Casper. Mother Goose has so much story left to tell!)