Richard Ziemba was born and raised in Chicago to Betty and Chester Ziemba along with his four sisters, Cathy, Patty, Janet and Susan. He went to high school at Gordon Tech in Chicago and went on to attend the University of Illinois. Rich left college before graduating and was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War to be a helicopter pilot for the flying ambulances that were known as Dustoff.
As a CW2 Dustoff Pilot in Vietnam, Richard flew over four-hundred missions, wherein he and his crew saved hundreds of lives. His time rescuing wounded soldiers and civilians with his other Dustoff pilots, medics and crew chiefs was one of the proudest achievements of his life. He continued to reflect fondly on the friendship and bravery of the people he served alongside in the Army for the rest of his life.
After his time in Vietnam, Richard sought tranquility and refuge from turbulent times amongst the salt-of-the-earth people in Webster Springs, West Virginia, where he moved with a few of his Vietnam vet friends. Richard built a cabin in the woods and sought to live off the land on a farm, He and his friends occasionally housed other vets that needed a refuge in nature to try to recover their peace of mind.
In 1975 Richard met the love of his life, Mary Jean, while she was visiting friends in Webster Springs. They fell in love and Rich convinced M.J. to come live with him in his cabin in West Virginia. They married in a large festive wedding and lived on their farm without power and running water for eight years, having the first two of their four children, Thoryn and Rhys, there. In 1982, their home was destroyed by a fire caused by a lightning storm. Subsequently, Richard and M.J. moved down to Pensacola, Florida, near other pilots with whom Rich flew for Petroleum Helicopters Inc. in the Gulf of Mexico.
Richard and M.J. loved Pensacola and lived there for the rest of Richard’s life. There, Rich and M.J. would have the last two of their four children, Ryne and Kelsey. Rich stopped flying helicopters to stay closer to his new hometown and family of six and began working jobs at such local Pensacola staples as Seville Quarter and later World Ford, where he made many friends and enjoyed being a part of a team. Later he became the proud grandfather of his two grandsons, Waylon and Emmett.
Richard had a great passion for sports, having played hockey in college and frequently playing in amateur basketball and baseball leagues throughout his adulthood. He was an early participant in fantasy sports, having started an early fantasy sports league in 1986, which he continued until his final days. One of his greatest joys was playing golf with his friends at Scenic Hills Country Club, where he competed fiercely. Rich was proud to have qualified several times for the Golf Channel State and National Amateur Tournaments.
In the last years of his life, Richard was able to reconnect with his fellow Dustoff friends from the Army, having become involved in the Vietnam Dustoff Association. He looked forward to the group’s yearly meet-ups and kept in touch with those friends on a regular basis. His fellow Dustoffs helped him get treatment for the PTSD that he had battled since his time in Vietnam. They also helped Rich to get approved for VA benefits from the government–something that he had been denied for decades, as his military records had been burned up in the National Personnel Records Center fire of 1973.
Richard Ziemba was a hardscrabble American with the heart of a pioneer who loved his friends and family with all of his soul and would do anything he could to help someone he cared about. Rich valued hard work, dogged persistence, treating everyone with respect and in the good-hearted nature of the everyday working American. He will be missed by many.