Lt. Col. Bill Richardson (Ret) of Port Charlotte, Fla. fought in three of this country’s wars—World War II, Korea and Vietnam — during his 33 – years of military service.
A little less than a month from now he will celebrate his 100th birthday, on June 28. His wife Eloise will celebrate her 99th birthday three days earlier on June 25. The couple has been married 73 years. They got hitched at Fort Ritchie, Md. on Aug. 23, 1943 during the middle of the Second World War.
Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Bill came to the U.S. as an engineering student at Georgia Tech University. By then he had already had four years of military training and was a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The previous four years he signed up for Citizens Military Training Camps in Puerto Rico before the war started.
Immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Bill dropped out of college and went into the Army as a boot camp instructor at a base at Camp Wheeler, Ga. Every six weeks he and other young officers graduated new recruits who were pressed into service around the globe during WW II.
He was reassigned to the 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division at Fort Devens, MA. It wasn’t long before he was sent to Camp Richie, Md. to attend linguistic and interrogation classes.
“When I graduated they were looking for people who could speak Spanish. They were concerned there might be trouble in Spain. I was reassigned to Fort Ritchie,“ he recalled. “I eventually headed up the Spanish desk for the military group.
“When problems with the Spanish didn’t develop I was reassigned to take over the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese desks with the organization. I became the intelligence person for all three desks in 1942. In April 1944 I boarded the USS Andes and headed for Europe with 20 other linguists who sailed with me aboard the ship,” Bill explained.
When the group landed in England they were taken by train to Stranraer, Scotland — along the west coast of the country. They ended up on an Irish estate living in Quonset huts.
“For months we sat around doing nothing,” he said. “Finally I had had enough and decided to go to Gen. Eisenhower’s headquarters in London. He was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. I met with the head of his personnel department, a lieutenant general who worked on the third floor of Eisenhower’s headquarters. Within a week after telling him my problem all of our linguists were employed with various divisions fighting all over Europe.”
For a short while after that, he was attached to a Military Police unit located in a small town near Paris. That didn’t agree with him very well so he got himself reassigned in August 1944 as the assistant intelligence officer for the 313th Troop Carrier Group located in Northern France. Their job was to fly paratroopers in C-47, twin-engine transport planes and gliders into battle.
The 313th participated in “Operation Market Garden,” the largest paratrooper drop in World War II. His group dropped troopers on Arnhem and Nijmegen, Holland on Sept 17, 1944. The Allied offensive was a disaster designed by British Gen. Bernard Montgomery. A few months later, in February 1945 his unit was involved in the assault on the Rhine River. His unit delivered the first American troops who jumped into Germany later that month.
“It was during this action that one of our glider pilots flew his plane into enemy territory and landed in the middle of a bunch of Germans. All of the Americans were captured and became POWs. The Germans relieved them of their watches and wallets almost immediately after capture,” Bill said. “A short while later some of our American paratroopers captured the Germans and forced them to return the ‘liberated’ watches and billfolds to the U.S. soldiers,” he recalled with a smile.
For the remainder of the war he and his unit help supply Gen. George Patton and his 3rd Army with gasoline and food which allowed them to continue bringing the fight to the Germans who were falling further back into Germany every day.
Strangely Bill says he doesn’t remember much about V-E Day (Victory in Europe). It was just another day for the men of the 313 Troop or so he says. But he does remember taking a troop transport out of Antwerp, Belgium that was headed for New York City. Two weeks later they arrived without much fanfare because the war had been over for months.
He was discharged from the Army in Puerto Rico in 1946. Bill returned to Atlanta and went to work for Armour & Co., the meat packers, as an industrial engineer. He was working for them in June 1950 when the Korean War started.
“I had joined the Georgia Air National Guard and was a captain at the beginning of the Korean War,” he said. “I went to train in California and my rank had been upped to a major. I was the assistant intelligence officer for the unit.
“I was sent by myself to Korea and ended up along the ‘Pusan Perimeter’ where all the fighting was going on. When Gen. (Douglas) Mac Arthur landed at Inchon, North Korea and we retook Seoul I was reassigned as the intelligence officer for the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing stationed in Seoul. I determine the targets they would attack with the F-80 fighter planes in North Korea,” Bill said.
After that he went on a secret intelligence mission to Thailand he doesn’t talk about even though it was more than 50 years ago.
“When I came back from Thailand I was assigned the intelligence officer for the U-2 Spy Plane,” he added. “I can’t talk about that either.”
Bill continued in the Air Force after Korea. When the Vietnam War rolled around he was assigned to the Pentagon. From 1967 to 1973 he was assigned to special projects. He worked for the 100th Strategic Recognizance Wing again working out of Thailand. In ’73 he and his wife wrapped up more than three decades of military service and they came to Port Charlotte to retire. By then he was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force.
They have a daughter, Ellen, who lives in Tampa, married to a Navy captain.
Name: William George Richardson
D.O.B: 28 June 1916
Hometown: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: May 1942
Discharged: 28 Jan. 1946
Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Unit: World War II: 45th Infantry Division, 313 Troop Carrier Group. Korean War: 8th Fighter Bomber Wing, Intelligence U-2 Spy Plane. Vietnam War: Special Project Pentagon, 100th Strategic Recognizance Wing Thailand
Commendations: Air Force Commendation Medal and Meritorious Service Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Operation Market Garden, Airborne Assault on Rhine River Crossing.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 30, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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