MARQUETTE - In September 2006, Loraine Light Koski, Jim Koski, both sets of their parents and a tour guide stood on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and read aloud an excerpt from a letter written by Major William Richards, the only Marquette County military member known to have died during the D-Day invasion.
"We were at the very part of the beach where he had landed," Koski said. "And we were close to where he was hit. That gave me the chills."
The Koskis have devoted much time and attention to finding out all they can about those from Marquette County who died in service during World War II, making numerous trips to Europe.
"Major Richards stood out to me because he died on D-Day and was the only one from here who did," Loraine Koski said. "I wonder if he had lived if he would have stayed in the Army and how high a rank he would have achieved."
William Richards was a special man, remembered on this, the 70th anniversary of his death and the passing of many young men who stormed the beaches at Normandy.
In fact, World War II veteran Richard Wills of Negaunee has grown a little weary of talking about that war and his experiences but when asked to share memories of fellow Marquette County soldier Major William Richards, Wills did not hesitate to respond.
"He was a very nice guy," Wills said. "He was a gentleman plus. He got along with everybody and everyone liked him. Everyone felt so bad when he died. He was a good man."
Richards was leading the 112th Engineer Combat Battalion onto Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and first was wounded in the arm, then was killed by enemy fire as he and his men strove to open a beach exit at Les Moulins.
He was 29.
Born in Virginia, Minnesota, Richards earned a degree from what now is Michigan Tech University and was working as an engineer for what was then Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. when he joined the military. Richards had settled in Marquette County after becoming friends with Allan Olson of Marquette while in college and falling in love with Mary Clemency "Clem" Archibald of Negaunee, who would become his bride in 1940.
Wills said Richards joined the National Guard in 1939, before the war, becoming part of Company D of the 107th Engineers. For a time that group combined with the 112th, Wills said.
"When they split the unit again after we got to England, he stayed with the 112th," Wills said of Richards. "He went as a major and was second in command."
Koski already had done much research on Richards and was stunned several years ago when a friend of hers, Karen Ruprecht, mentioned how a teacher of hers had lost her dad on D-Day. She was shocked when she learned Ruprecht's teacher in fact was Major Richards' only child, Susan Richards Allaben.
Allaben, who lives in the Grand Rapids area, said the Koskis have been a wonderful source of information about her father, visiting with her when Allaben spends time at the family's camp in Michigamme.
"They came out one time with their cameras and computers. Loraine and Jim are very competent with all that and soon had scanned photos for me," Allaben said. "Another time, they had a slide show they'd done and they brought the Bill Richards portion out to camp so 20 people or so were able to see it.
"Loraine had visited Bill's grave before I met her. She called him her hero," Allaben said. "That meant a lot to me."
Koski said, "Major Richards was a hero. Susan has his Distinguished Service Cross and when she showed it to me, it was emotional. Their family's story is sad but it's a sweet one, too. Susan's parents, all they wanted was to be together. But because of the war, they couldn't."