Military intelligence was his job in three wars – Lt. Col. Bill Richardson saw action in WW II, Korea and Vietnam
By the time World War II rolled around, Bill Richardson had just graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial management. He had already been commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Because he was born in Puerto Rico, he spoke several languages. He was originally trained as a prisoner of war interrogator. At the time, the Allies weren’t sure if Gen. Francisco Frank, the Spanish dictator, would remain neutral or join the Axis nations. If he joined the German side, Allied forces would need Spanish interpreters.
The general remained neutral and Richardson’s interrogation services weren’t needed.
By the time his unit arrived in Scotland, it was early 1944, six months before the invasion of Normandy.
“We were billeted in Quonset huts at the home of the Duke of Hamilton near Belfast, Northern Ireland,” the 89-year-old Port Charlotte, Fla. man said.
The duke also owned another estate 30 miles from Glasgow, Scotland. This is where Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess landed when he made his parachute jump to meet with British leaders.
On May 10, 1941, Hess put on a Luftwaffe uniform and flew a ME110 German fighter alone across the North Sea, bailing out within 30 miles of the Duke of Hamilton’s estate.
He was on a one-man “peace mission” to meet with the duke to try and convince the British government that if it allowed Adolf Hitler to have his way with Europe, Germany would not attack England.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill put Hess in prison for the duration of the war. At war’s end, Hess was sentenced to life in prison. He finally committed suicide at 92 while still behind bars in 1987.
Because Richardson’s services weren’t needed as an interpreter, and they were desperate for officers, he found himself reassigned as an assistant in intelligence with the 313 Troop Carrier Group that flew C-46 transport planes out of France after the Normandy Invasion.
He gave intelligence briefings to pilots prior to each mission. It was his job to explain what they could expect in the way of enemy action when they reached the drop zone.
The most spectacular mission Richardson was involved in during WW II was the Allied parachute jump across the Rhine River into Germany. His unit towed gliders filled with paratroopers and equipment on the first jump into the Fatherland.
“On this one jump we lost 14 of our 18 C-46s,” he said. “I remember debriefing one of our glider pilots after he survived the jump into Germany. The glider pilot returned with a woman’s engagement ring and a Walther P38 German pistol,” Richardson said.
Richardson asked the pilot how he came by the pistol; the pilot “told me a story.
“‘When we approached the landing zone with our gliders, the Germans were shooting at us from all directions. Once we landed everyone ran in all directions. Eventually we were all captured by the Germans,’ he said.
“‘We were marched to a German headquarters nearby. They put us in a compound after taking our watches and wallets. We hadn’t been captured long when the Germans returned and gave us back our watches and wallets,'” the glider pilot said.
Paratroopers from another unit had captured the German headquarters, so the Germans there became prisoners.
“‘There was a German secretary working at the headquarters and I walked over and relieved her of her engagement ring. I was fixing to get married when I got back to the States. I figured the ring might come in handy. I looked in her purse and she had a Walther pistol, so I liberated that, too,’ the pilot told me.”
At the close of the Second World War, Richardson returned to the U.S. and joined the Georgia Air National Guard. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the guard was federalized and he found himself back in the service once more like lots of other WW II veterans.
By this time he was a major and still working in intelligence. He was plucked out of the guard unit and sent as a replacement officer to the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing flying out of Seoul, South Korea. He was the wing’s senior intelligence officer. By then, late in 1951, his unit was flying F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter-bombers.
Again his job was to brief pilots and give them as much intelligence on the target they would be attacking as was known so they could protect themselves against enemy anti-aircraft guns and ground-to-air rockets.
“On one of my briefings on a new area we were going to start bombing, I very specifically went over the target area and pointed out where the North Koreans had anti-aircraft guns. Even so, one of our pilots got shot down, but he bailed out,” Richardson said.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched, but it couldn’t make contact with the downed pilot until the next day. By that time the American aviator was being pursued by a unit of enemy soldiers.
To escape his pursuers, the pilot hid in a man-size crack on the far side of a stone wall near the top of a mountain near where he ditched his F-80. Eventually the enemy soldiers gave up their search.
“The F-80 pilot wore a red scarf when he flew. He put his scarf on the ground to mark his hiding spot so the helicopter pilot could find him next morning,” Richardson said. “Problem was, the North Koreans saw the helicopter approaching and spotted the scarf.”
They came charging back up the hill with guns blazing.
“On the first approach, the pilot missed the sling dangling below the helicopter so the chopper had to try a second time. By then the enemy was almost upon him when he grabbed the sling and was lifted off the ground.
“About the same time the pilot’s forehead was creased by an enemy bullet. He was blinded by the blood from his superficial wound as the chopper pilot tried desperately to reel him into the helicopter.”
The helicopter’s gas tank had also been punctured by an enemy bullet and was leaking fuel.
It would be a miracle if the helicopter pilot could get them safely to the coast and possible freedom. He was headed for a tiny island just off shore from the border between the two Koreas. It was held by the Americans as an emergency helicopter landing base for situations like this.
“As the helicopter reached the little island and settled onto the landing zone, it ran out of gas,” Richardson said with a smile.
After Korea he was assigned as an intelligence expert working for Air Force Military Intelligence in the Pentagon. He helped prepare top-secret briefing papers seen by the president, secretary of defense and secretary of state, among others.
From there he served a stint at what had been Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo performing intelligence duties. He had similar responsibilities as an intelligence officer working in Honolulu, Hawaii. He also served for a time at North American Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.
It was 1970 and the Vietnam War was in full swing when he went to Thailand. He served with Task Force Alpha at a base in Nikon Phanon.
“What we did was drop censors along the Ho Chi Min Trail in Vietnam so we could pick up enemy ground movement with our computers at our base in Thailand,” Richardson said. “We could tell when they began moving heavy equipment or troops into an area from what we were seeing on our computer screens.
“The communists would only move at night. When they did and we caught their movement on our computers, we’d call in air strikes from fighter-bombers circling overhead,” he said. “Very shortly the little blip on our screen would disappear. Our orbiting plane had knocked it off.”
He completed his South East Asia tour in May 1971 and was transferred to the 100 Strategic Reconnaissance Wing as chief of intelligence. This was the unit that operated the U-2 spy planes around the world whenever the U.S. needed an eye in the sky.
All Richardson said about this assignment was that U-2s took mighty fine aerial pictures at high altitudes. They’re still taking them on occasion, he added.
After 33 1/2 years of military service, Lt. Col. William G. Richardson retired. He and his wife, Eloise, came to Port Charlotte in 1973.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view the collection in the Library of Congress.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.
Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.