After 12 years at sea, Oak Forest Navy sailor home for good
By Jason Freeman firstname.lastname@example.org September 8, 2012 6:34PM
Jeffrey Richardson (left), an aviation electrician 1st class in the Navy, is welcomed home Saturday to Oak Forest. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 8, 2012 1:57AM
When Jeffrey Richardson began his tour of duty in the Navy, Bill Clinton still was president and the Y2K bug was a serious concern instead of the punch line to a joke.
Richardson’s nearly 13-year stint as an aviation electrician 1st class saw him serve aboard such storied seafaring ships as the USS Enterprise and the USS Kitty Hawk, which was the last non-nuclear carrier commissioned by the Navy.
His maritime adventures even have earned him 11 awards, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
But at long last, Richardson’s military service has come into port for good.
Family and friends honored the conclusion of Richardson’s more than a decade-long military service on Saturday during a surprise homecoming celebration at the Oak Forest Community Center.
Richardson was greeted with raucous cheers as he arrived via an escort by Oak Forest police and fire vehicles as well as bikers from the Soldiers Guardian Angels and the Warrior Watch Riders groups.
“I was just totally surprised,” said Richardson, who was discharged in July and recently bought a home in Oak Forest with his wife Tamara and sons Derek, 11, Tyler, 10, Jeremiah, 5 and Justin, 5 months.
Richardson said he at first suspected nothing unusual when he pulled into the parking lot of nearby Jewel, which was the staging area for the escort.
“We were supposed to be going to see ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ downtown, and my buddy Justin said he had to go get allergy meds,” he said.
“We pulled into the parking lot of Jewel, and he starts heading towards the back,” he said. “There were all these parking spots up front, so I’m thinking he’s just looping around, but that’s when I saw the fire trucks and a whole bunch of people.
“I thought it was a car wash or something for the fire or police department. It wasn’t until I saw my mom carrying a banner that said ‘Welcome Home Jeff’ that I realized what was going on.”
Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, the Rev. Randy Roberts, representatives from Cub Scout Pack 348 and others welcomed Richardson home with speeches outside the community center before the crowd moved inside for a party complete with music, pop and food.
“Most people who get out will say they don’t deserve anything special, and I definitely feel I don’t deserve anything special like this, but it was a great surprise seeing everyone out there,” Richardson said. “It makes me appreciate what I’ve done a little bit more. Even if I don’t think it’s a big deal, some other people do.”
Richardson grew up in Oak Forest and attended Eastern Illinois University, where he said he majored “in beer.” He was only there a year before a chance encounter with an old friend from Oak Forest High School gave him the idea to enlist in the Navy.
“(He) went into the Navy right out of high school, and he came back to visit from Japan,” Richardson said. “He was talking about how awesome it was, so I went and talked to a recruiter and joined.”
Richardson said he is looking forward to being a civilian and already has accepted a position with Lutron Electronics in Chicago as a senior field applications specialist.
“I got a job, and I’m hoping to keep that job,” he said. “I just came here to get my kids good schooling and a place to grow up. Oak Forest was good for me, so I’m hoping it’ll be good for them, too.”