Starke County is grieving the loss of one of their own. U.S. Army SPC Robert (Bobby) Tauteris Jr., 44, of Hamlet, died a hero’s death while defending his country in Afghanistan last Friday morning. Tauteris, along with three other soldiers, lost his life when their vehicle hit an IED (roadside bomb). A fourth soldier was injured.
SPC Brian Leonhardt, 21, of the Merrillville area, was one of the four soldiers lost. Leonhardt also has family and friends in Starke County who are heartbroken over the loss of this young hero.
Leonhardt was a 2008 graduate of Hammond Baptist High School in Schererville. He also attended the First Baptist Church, Hammond.
Leonhardt is survived by his wife Dianne; mother, Marie Leonhardt, father, Robert Leonhardt Jr.; seven siblings: Sisters: Theresa Stoneback and Jackie Leonhardt, brothers: Chuck, 28, twins, Randall and Robert III, 27, A.J., 23, and Trevor, 16.
Three of Leonhardt’s brothers also served in the military: Chuck served in Afghanistan, and A.J. and Randall served in Iraq. All three were members of the Indiana National Guard, with Randall also serving as a Marine.
Leonhardt’s remains are expected to be released by the end of the week.
Staff Sargeant Jonathan M. Metzer, 32, of Indianapolis, and SPC Christopher A. Patterson, 20, of Aurora, Ill., and a student at Valparaiso University, also perished.
Injured was Douglas Rachowicz, 29, of Hammond.
The soldiers were members of the Indiana-based National Guard and were part of the 713th Engineer Company out of Valparaiso. The men had been working to clear a supply route when they struck the explosive device.
Tauteris was a 1986 graduate of North Judson-San Pierre High School.
He was on his second tour of duty. He reenlisted when his son, Robert Tauteris III, enlisted. Serving together wasn’t just a journey of two soldiers, but of a father and son fighting together to defend the country they both loved.
“Both father and son joined the military so they could experience and embrace this journey together. They each went in knowing that it was a possibility that one or both would not return. However, they did not allow that to influence their decision to serve their country,” said Robert Tauteris Sr., Robert Jr.’s father.
Father and son knew that while they stood on the same soil, it would be nearly 11 months before they were together again.
“They left for Afghanistan shortly after Thanksgiving. They knew they wouldn’t be side by side until at least October because the Army would not allow them to go out on patrol together,” Tauteris said.
Knowing that his son left this world doing something he loved helps to bring comfort to Tauteris and his family.
“We take comfort in knowing Bobby was honored to serve with the Indiana National Guard, Indianapolis-based 76th Infantry Brigade,” he said.
Tauteris said Bobby was a man who lived up to his responsibilities. He made the best of whatever life sent his way; and he took great pride in being a father.
“He was a good kid. Both my boys are... were. He was a great father — a man who faced his responsibilities daily, dealt the hand he was given, took pride in raising his sons to be good men,” Tauteris said.
The family’s faith is also helping them to deal with their heartbreaking loss.
“It was God’s calling — He needed him. He gave him to us to love; and now He has a bigger job to oversee. He will be with his mother — he’s in good hands. He will never truly leave us, he’s my son . . .,” Tauteris said.
Bobby will be remembered for many things — among them will be his love for his children.
“I worked with him at Walker Muffler for four years, many years ago. He was a hard worker. Working the midnight shift everyday to take care of his kids, with no days off, seven days a week. Then he would go home, cook, clean, and get the kids ready for school. He had a car accident and almost died, due to loss of sleep from working so much back then. A real hero. A real shame,” said Shannon Tauteris, a cousin.
Tauteris is survived by his children: Robert and Matthew who is a junior at Oregon-Davis Jr./Sr. High School.
He is survived by Robert Tauteris Sr., his step-mother Nichelle, and the late Marge Tauteris.
He is also survived by a sister Tammy Tauteris Smith, who left a moving tribute to her brother on his Facebook page.
“To my brother, my friend, my hero: I don’t know how to say goodbye to you. You are with mom now so take good care of her till we can get there. I love you little brother. You are a hero and I’ll love you to the moon and back and twice around the stars,” she said.
Smith said some of the family went to Delaware to meet the plane that was bringing Robert Jr. home. His son Bobby escorted him home from Afghanistan.
“My brother, Spc. Robert L. Tauteris, Jr.’s body is expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware tonight (Sunday, Jan. 8) around 6 p.m. My brother Tommy, sister-in-law Kayla and Bobby’s son Mathew are already at Dover Air Force Base and are expected home tomorrow evening,” she said.
Tauteris’s wife, Nichelle said the tragedy has not only taken a toll on the family’s emotional well being, but their health as well.
“This is just heart breaking for our family. My husband experienced chest pain yesterday — we had to call an ambulance. He was transported to a local hospital in Winamac, where we were told he had a slight heart attack. However, he wouldn’t stay,” she said.
Smith said her brother sensed that something was wrong with his father’s heart the night before he passed away. This was the second instance that Robert Jr. was concerned about his dad.
“I talked to my brother on Facebook the night before he died. He was concerned about our father and had a feeling that something wasn’t right with his heart. This was the second time he had said that. I never told my father. I realize now that perhaps he did sense something,” Smith said.
Tauteris is also survived by a brother, Tom Tauteris and a half-brother, Darrel Minix.
Smith said while her brother has been flown home to the states, it will be several days before the military escorts him to North Judson for a full military service.
Robert Jr. will be laid to rest in LaCrosse next to his mother.