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Cpl. Richard J. Nelson laughs with Iraqi children during a patrol in the al Anbar Province of Iraq. Nelson was killed in action when a improvised explosive device struck his vehicle, killing two and injuring one.

Photo by Pfc. Jerry Murphy

Wisconsin family remembers their fallen Marine

8 May 2008 | Pfc. Jerry Murphy

Funny, outgoing, crazy, loving, full of life – those are just a few of the many words that describe the late Cpl. Richard “Ricky” J. Nelson, a 23-year-old rifleman from Kenosha, Wis., who was killed by an improvised explosive device in the al Anbar Province of Iraq, Apr. 14.

This was Nelson’s second deployment to Iraq with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, and upon his return, he was looking forward to starting a family with his wife and going to school to become an elementary school teacher.

“He loved kids. He wanted to come home, start a family and become a teacher,” said Kristen Nelson, Nelson’s 20-year-old wife of one year, from Winthrop Harbor, Ill. “Teaching kids would have been perfect for him because they seemed to be the only ones who could keep up with him.”

Nelson’s energy and determination had always been an integral part of his personality. His mother, Susan Nelson, of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., said that he was a rascal growing up and remembered a specific showing of his determination.

 “I worked at a Christian school about 12 and a half miles from where we lived. Every day, we left at a specific time and Ricky knew that and one day, he wasn’t ready when we left,” Susan said. “He called me on my cell phone and begged me to come back and pick him up. I told him I wasn’t going to and, sure enough, he showed up to school about two and a half hours late. He rode his dirt bike all the way and said that he didn’t want to miss school.”

Throughout Nelson’s life, he was known as the life of the party, always making people laugh and rarely shying away from a conversation with anyone.

“Ricky was so funny, always cracking jokes. He was the goofball of his class,” Kristen said. “He was a little shy around people he didn’t know, but once you got to know him, he would open up.”

Ricky and Kristen met at Christian Life School, where he was a senior when she was a freshman. Kristen said he told one of his friends that he was attracted to her and his friend set them up. The two dated all through Kristen’s high school years until she graduated in 2006. The couple married on Apr. 21, 2007 and would have celebrated their one year anniversary a week after his death.

One of the fondest memories Lennie Nelson, Ricky’s father, and Kristen have of him was fishing and spending time with him in the great outdoors.

“He loved going camping, fishing and hunting when he was growing up,” Lennie said.

Kristen agreed, saying, “We loved to go fishing and camping. It was just something Ricky loved to do.”

With his unaltered determination, he was said to be the one who would ensure his family was together as often as possible, said Lennie.

“He was great to have in the home. He loved God, his family and the Marine Corps,” Lennie said. “He was very proud of being a Marine and had a strong dedication to his country.”

Growing up, Nelson heard many stories from his grandfather, a former Marine, which helped his decision of becoming a Marine, with his grandfather always saying, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” He joined the Marines and first deployed to Iraq in 2005 and again in 2008.

 About Nelson joining the Marines, Kristen said, “I think Ricky was trying to make a statement as an adult, not only to himself, but to his family. He was a huge supporter of the military and it didn’t hurt that his friends encouraged him to join.”

Nelson’s faith played a big role in his life. He grew up in a home where his family went to church every week, and throughout his childhood, he was a member of his schools Junior Bible Quiz team, where he went to Nationals and won championships, Kristen said. 

As it is known to most parents, during the teenage years of their children’s lives, they become rebellious and want to do things on their own.

“Ricky had somewhat of a rebellious attitude during his senior year,” Kristen said. “But just prior to his first deployment, he was baptized and dedicated his life to God.”

Susan added, “He would say that through his first deployment and this one, he would be made fun of because his openness to his faith. But that’s just who Ricky was. His friends nicknamed him ‘The Chaplain.’”

 In Nelson’s memory, his family developed the Cpl. Richard Nelson Scholarship, which is designed to help families with financial problems attending Christian Life School.

Even throughout the pain and suffering of their loss, Nelson’s family has remained humble, having the piece of mind knowing that his life, while short on this earth, has mad a positive impact with friends, family, fellow Marines and all those around him; carrying on his memory and legacy.

“As hard as this has been,” Kristen said. “I know that God has a plan for everything.”