The National WWII Museum mourns the passing of Richard “Dick” Duchossois, WWII veteran, businessman, racehorse owner, philanthropist, and a generous friend and Trustee Emeritus of the Museum. Duchossois died on January 28, 2022. He was 100 years old.
Known to many as an accomplished business executive and entrepreneur, Duchossois also was a member of Board of Trustees of The National WWII Museum from 2013 to 2019. He and his family have been avid supporters, underwriting a major aspect of the visitor experience: The Duchossois Family Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries.
In his long and successful life, Duchossois never did anything halfway. Born in Chicago in October 1921, he credited his successes to the American values of discipline, excellence, and teamwork he learned as a young student attending Morgan Park Military Academy. Duchossois’ values were further honed during his wartime service.
A year after he enrolled at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Duchossois had been on his way to the library to study for mid-semester exams when another student told him about the attack. Duchossois admitted that he did not even know where Pearl Harbor was at the time but learned about it fast that afternoon.
Because he had attended a military academy, been in ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps), and had completed summer training with the Regular Army, Duchossois was eligible for a commission. At the age of 19, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry.
Duchossois reported to the replacement center at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was only there for two days before being sent to the newly established tank destroyer school at Camp Hood, now Fort Hood, Texas. It was a special mission. Camp Hood was the headquarters for the tank destroyers, and that is where most of the tank destroyer units trained during the war. Duchossois was among the cadre assigned to the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion responsible for building a new battalion before deploying overseas.
The 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved to several camps, and each time picked up contingents of draftees. Duchossois and the other cadre had to turn those men into soldiers. This was a significant leadership challenge because Duchossois recognized that “a lot of the draftees were not happy about being in the Army.”
Duchossois took pride in getting those draftees motivated, trained, and transformed into professionals. Known throughout his life for his exacting standards, Duchossois took enduring lessons from his military service; he dressed well and expected things to be in order. “Appearance translates. I learned that in the Army,” he related in 2012. “If you let your troops get sloppy, you can’t count on them.” It was a lesson that he believed also held true in the business world.
Duchossois commanded a company of tank destroyers in Normandy through the end of the war, altogether serving in five campaigns in the European Theater of Operations. He admired his men and took care of them. “We had some of the greatest guys in the world. They were just innovative, creative, and you didn’t have to worry about ’em.” In combat, rather than tell his well-trained soldiers how to do something, he oriented them on the mission and on their objective: “I tried not to tell ’em how to do it, but here’s what we’ve got, here’s what you’ve got, you’re up against, here’s where we have to be, and this is the objective.”
He led his men with valor and distinction, earning two Bronze Stars. Wounded in action in September 1944, he later recalled the incident for which he was awarded a Purple Heart:
“We had been held up at the Moselle River. The Germans, they came in with their tanks. Well, we got overrun, and I was going along with my machine gun down there. Looking out of the corner of my eye, I saw a German over there pegged at me. And the next thing I knew, it felt like I got hit in the stomach. But it was in the back. Word got back to my headquarters, and they came about under all the gunfire, picked me up, dragged me back, and got me back so I headed toward the hospital. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Duchossois worked to get back to his company, and rejoined the unit prior to the Battle of the Bulge.
At the end of the war, Duchossois was in Germany. For him, the eventual outcome of the war was never in doubt. Confidently he observed, “Our mission was to win the war, and we knew that every mile we went forward was on the way back home again.” Having been promoted to Major, he served as military governor for the Eichstätt region in Bavaria, before being released from active service in 1946.
After the war, Duchossois came home and became a successful businessman.
From 1952 to 1985, Duchossois was Chief Executive Officer of Thrall Car Manufacturing Company, one of the nation’s leading railcar manufacturers. In 1980, he acquired Chamberlain Manufacturing Corp. and became its Chairman. He was the founder and Chairman of The Duchossois Group, known for its stake in the Arlington Park racetrack and Churchill Downs.
He received several honors for his achievements in the horse racing world, including the Jockey Club’s Gold Medal in 1986, a special Sovereign Award from The Jockey Club of Canada in 1988, as well as the Lord Derby Award from Great Britain, also in 1988. Duchossois was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2019.
In Normandy during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the French Government awarded Duchossois the Legion d’Honneur.
At the Museum, we also honor and seek to preserve the legacy of his heroic service in the European Theater and his combat leadership with the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion. For that service, as well as his support for the Museum and his fellow veterans, he received the American Spirit Award, our highest honor, in 2021.
At The National WWII Museum, “Mr. D.,” as he is fondly known, will be remembered for his selfless service to our country and the Museum’s mission. Always sharply dressed and professional, he remained personable and proud of his service and the accomplishments of his soldiers.
Once asked to describe his philosophy of life, Duchossois put it this way: “You learn to help others because it’s who you serve—not who’s going to serve you. As long you serve others, they’re going to return that.”