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Wednesday, December 30, 2009




By James Thalman
23:15 Hours MST Tuesday 29 December 2009


The last time Randy Richards felt good enough to have visitors, he grabbed the triangle-shaped handle above the hospital bed parked in his living room, pulled himself upright and let go a laugh.

As usual, that turned into a fit of coughing that shook him out like a dirty rug.

That his own hand, not an enemy's bullet or some battlefield incident, was taking him out of the picture for good "is just too funny not to laugh about."

Richards is a tough-as-nails former Navy Seal who could swim as smooth as a swamp boat and almost as fast. He dodged death in Vietnam but did not completely dodge a sniper's aim just five days before his tour was to end.

Now he is at death's door because of cancer. It's throat cancer, to be specific, most likely due to a lifetime of breathing smoke from about a million unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes.

"It's a stupid and wasteful, but mostly stupid, habit that I picked up at 17 when I signed up for the Navy, and it's the one thing that has stuck with me," he said. "It's been a stress reliever that just adds stress in ways you don't even know until it's too late."

He knew smoking was wrong as a kid, but it was as much a part of being in the armed forces as gravy on toast, he said, euphemizing the familiar term of the once ubiquitous military fare so he wouldn't come off as "too coarse for a family newspaper."

Another vet has cancer; so what? he said, doing his best not to swear like a sailor. "They teach you how to cuss in the military, too."

But that day late last November, he was cussing himself out.

"I've kidded myself about smoking all my life," he said. "Mom called smoking 'dissipating.' That's a good way to put it. Your health just kind of goes up in smoke eventually."

Richards looked out the picture window a moment at the mountains crowding out half his view. "They've always felt so close, like they are sitting in your lap."

The end of his life is closer than that.

"I won't make it through the new year (2010)," he said. "But for those who might be smokers and planning on making a New Year's resolution to stop. Keep it. Stopping is easy. Staying stopped is the hard part."

He said he would never tell anyone what to do, but he said cigarettes can make someone's end of life "a lot shorter hike than it should have been."

With 2010 approaching, and the season for resolutions to quit bad habits or to lose weight, he advises smokers to "just stop. Get some help. There's plenty of it out there through hospitals and health departments. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. Smoking is harder to kick than heroin, so don't give up if you can't just tough it out."

Scare tactics and information on the hazards of smoking from family members don't work, he said.

"Smokers can't be scared into quitting," he said. "They could put a skull and crossbones on the outside, and it wouldn't matter."

But they can be shown without having cancer decide for them.

Richards' quit plan isn't one he recommends. "Do it before cancer or heart problems or something else decides for you."

For information on how to quit tobacco, call the Utah Tobacco Quit Line at:


Visit Utah Quit Net at:

The service is free and confidential.





I enjoyed smoking and never would have quit.

But, I converted to The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints.

Even then, it took a couple of failed attempts before I was eventually successful.

When I was with other Latter-day Saints, I had no desire to smoke.

But, when I was with other smokers, I would relapse.

It took time, but my strength of character gradually increased, and within a few months, I permanently kicked my habit.

Because I was so mightily engaged in struggling and concentrating on not smoking, for the first time in my life, I quit biting my fingernails, and they grew back out.

Thus, purely by accident, two bad habits were overcome at once.

Other folks may have different reasons or different methods for giving up smoking.

But, as for me, my motivation was my chosen faith, and without the love, compassion, and constant association of my fellow Latter-day Saints, I doubt I ever could have done it.

God bless you, Randy Richards.

Thank you.

John Robert Mallernee
Armed Forces Retirement Home
Washington, D.C. 20011-8400


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