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Richard Grayson Villa, formerly of Santa Fe and Albuquerque N. M., died December 31 after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis and polymyositis caused by a rare autoimmune illness. He was 71.
Richard was preceded in death by his parents, John D. & Drucilla J. Villa and his beloved younger brother Roland Villa.
Richard was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and grew up in Santa Fe, where he had a paper route delivering the New Mexican, learned to ride motorcycles and to fish, both lifelong passions. Richard attended Santa Fe public schools.
On his 18th birthday Richard dropped out of high school and joined the United States Army. He wanted to be a helicopter crew chief and he got his wish. He was assigned to the 237th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) which was forming at Ft. Meade, Maryland, for deployment to the Republic of South Vietnam. The unit arrived Thanksgiving Day 1968 in Da Nang, South Vietnam and the next day went north to I Corp, Camp Evans, near Hue. Not long after building its camp, the unit was “baptized” by North Vietnamese Army rockets. As crew chief of an Army “Huey” helicopter, Richard flew his first combat mission on December 6, 1968 and ultimately flew a recorded 527 combat hours (and many more hours that were not recorded).
Over the course of the next year, Richard helped rescue wounded and dead American and allied forces and numerous civilians. He was shot down by enemy fire three times and was in many other life-threatening situations, for which he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal with 5 oak leaf clusters, the Vietnam Campaign Medal with 4 battle stars, the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Medal and, most precious to him, the Army Aircraft Crewman badge (wings). Richard was twice nominated for the Distinguished Flying Cross. He volunteered to fly any mission he was ever asked to fly.
Richard graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1977. He served as an Albuquerque Police Officer, where he was the outstanding cadet of the 42nd Cadet Class. He attended the FBI Academy in 1978 and was commissioned as a Special Agent. His FBI career was short as he left the FBI to become the Director of Corporate Security for Puritan Fashion, a Fortune 500 Apparel manufacturing company. After that, he served as a security executive for Albuquerque Federal Savings and Loan and the New Mexico Office of Cultural Affairs. Finally, he served as an investigator for the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Western Pennsylvania. Richard retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with an autoimmune lung disease.
Richard rode motorcycles from age 12 – 62 and, along with his brother Roland, fished Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. He was an avid hunter before his military service, but never hunted again after his military service. The physical and emotional scars of war affected Richard for the rest of his life, particularly PTSD.
In 2005, Richard and two fellow helicopter crew chiefs met in Washington D.C, visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and then the Arlington National Cemetery to visit his comrade David J. Ewing KIA 5-22-69. Thereafter, he participated in weekly meetings at the Pittsburgh Veterans’ Center and ultimately in a reunion of the members of the 237th Medical Detachment, including the families of those who were lost in the War.
He leaves three ex-wife’s: from his first marriage to Laura Darrow, he leaves his daughter Anne Marie Irvin and her husband Jeff Irvin; from his second marriage to Janice Johns-Villa, he leaves two sons—William Johns-Villa and Ryan Villa—and three grandchildren Austin, Celeste, and Adalyn (the children of Ryan & Vanessa Johnson-Villa). He had no children with his former partner Catherine McLean, nor with his third wife, Judith Hagen Villa. He is also survived by 4 siblings, Lydia Villa-Komaroff and her husband Anthony L. Komaroff; Katherine Villa-Smith and her husband Stephen Smith; Lorenzo Villa and his wife Diane, and Dorthea Montoya, as well many nieces, nephews, and a large extended family.
Richard’s ashes will be interred with military honors at Angel Fire State Veterans Cemetery, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Angel Fire, NM. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.
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