Elizabeth A. Richardson
by Michelle Gonzalez of the FIU Honors College at the Normandy American Cemetery in 2018
Many generations have come to learn the history behind World War II, but many (much like myself) overlook the lives of men and women that have sacrificed their lives for the freedom we often take for granted. Much less, we only see veterans as sacrificial lambs that were destined to be soldiers, with no attention to their lives neither before nor after the war. Sure, we visit memorials and take a few pictures to say we were there—but were we really there?
Many historians try to combat this shroud of ignorance, but their efforts are futile when it comes to the lives of young men and women that have no remarkable distinction, only after they have enlisted and lost their life, such as the majority of World War II.
Elizabeth A. Richardson was no exception to this unfortunate reality. Very few research is available online—she was just another American girl that grew up in an industrial town in Mishawaka, Indiana (Madison, 2007). However, as this writing progresses, I’ll do my best to convey the most accurate information of the remarkable Ms. Richardson, whose life and death deserve such honor, as the rest of the three women and many men that are often forgotten and taken for granted outside of Normandy Cemetery.
Before, During, and After World War II
Before World War II, Elizabeth A. Richardson was born in Mishawaka, Indiana where she later graduated from Mishawaka High School in 1936. Like any young girl, full of life and expectations, Richardson moved to Wisconsin where she later enrolled in Milwaukee-Downer College and worked at an advertising agency.
Before her service in the war, the isolationist policy resonated within her beliefs in which she advocated that Americans should not intervene in World War II: “The U.S. will be suckers if they enter it” (Madison, 2007). However, like many American’s perceptions, her perception also changed on December 7th 1941—the day Japan awoke the “sleeping giant” in Pearl Harbor, declaring war on the United States.
Subsequently, as she saw her friends and loved ones being drafted, she refused to stay idle in her advertising job so she enlisted as a volunteer for the American Red Cross in 1944, along with two of her close college friends (Madison, 2007).
After passing her physical and psychological evaluation to join the American Red Cross, Richardson began six weeks of intensive training in Washington D.C. (Madison, 2007). After her successful training, she later boarded Queen Elizabeth where she was one of fifteen thousand Americans to set sail across the Atlantic to war, in July of 1944 (Madison, 2007).
Once in England, The Blitz and other destructions immersed Richardson in a country whose environment and infrastructure had been deteriorated by World War II (Madison, 2007). To many English and Americans of the time, the efforts of Americans such as Richardson were much revered through signs of hope.
That is, the American Red Cross’ responsibility was just that: bringing hope to fallen troops. Richardson did this through volunteering in clubmobiles, a single decker bus that brought food and entertainment to soldiers in order lessen the stress of war and have a connection to home. However, not only did Richardson bring hope to the Americans stationed in England, she also felt like an oddity since war had created a stupor amongst men in disassociating themselves in the presence of American girls, “…you feel sort of like a museum piece—’Hey, look, fellows! A real, live American girl!'” (Madison, 2007)
Ultimately, Richardson was even more convinced that her role was to heal morale and support her brothers in uniform. She did this through bringing American culture to American soldiers that had been far away from home. Through small talk, Richardson was able to lend an ear to soldiers who hadn’t seen their wives and children or those who simply missed home.
Moreover, throughout the war, Richardson, like the other women that volunteered for the American Red Cross, did not let her appearance fall through. I believe her attention to detail in her appearance, though rugged from war, was important in establishing morale, much of what the American Red Cross strived for. It was attention to these details that gave soldiers a sense of hope that life does carry on and that savagery does have an end. That is, like many volunteers, Richardson took the time to apply lipstick, nail polish, and even perfume! (Madison, 2007) Such pride in her appearance paralleled with her devout patriotism and efforts for soldiers to persevere. Soldiers acknowledged her feminine attempts and appreciated how women like her brought “a little bit of home” to war (Madison, 2007).
Painted red lips, coupled with a big smile and greeting made the donuts and coffee taste better for the soldiers. However, as Richardson grew closer to the soldiers, she began to learn of accounts that were never released in newspapers or shared with a loved one back home. Richardson had become much of the soldier’s confidant, seen through what she would write to her parents, always tip-toeing around the notion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the affect it had on the men: “If you only knew what combat does to these boys—not in the physical sense, although that’s bad enough—but mentally.” (Bosshart, 2014).
Ultimately, though Richardson’s role was not that of a soldier, she was in battle against soldier’s disillusionment and morale. Her work was what we consider domestic in which she would cook, clean, and wait on soldiers (Madison, 2007). But to what extent was her role domestic amidst the battlefield? Her job required a strong emotional quotient, interpersonal, and organizational skills not all women have when embarking to a foreign country, much less war! (Madison, 2007) Richardson was much of what made the American Red Cross special to men who were absent from loved ones since the onset of war—demonstrating violence and pacifism can meet in the middle as seen through her life and death.
When enlisting in war, the fear of never returning to your loved ones is always eminent. For Richardson, she hoped her involvement in the war was like a “toothache” that ended quickly. Unfortunately, on July 25, 1945 at Le Havre, Richardson boarded a two-seater military plane in route to Paris that never landed but crashed near Rouen, instantly killing her at twenty-seven years old, with pilot “Sgt. William R. Miller of the Ninth Air Force” (Indiana Magazine of History, 2013).
Richardson is now interred in “Plot A, Row 21, Grave 5” in the Normandy American Cemetery in France (Madison, 2007).
What Her Sacrifice Means to Me
When we think of World War II, it’s difficult to find a personal connection with the many men and women that sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Many of us recall those who were drafted onto unwanted war duties, but forget those who whole-heartedly volunteered because of a sense of moral obligation to better the lives of people. Society also tends to forget the lives of women—a recurrent theme in society, evident in the four women that are buried here.
That is, Elizabeth A. Richardson was not part of an unwanted synecdoche of young men that were drafted out to fight World War II. Instead, she was a self-made woman from Mishawaka, Indiana that felt a selfless desire to help victims of war in Europe, ironically becoming a victim herself.
It’s inevitable to feel detached to her, simply because of time and circumstance. However, the fact that she, a woman in the 1940s, volunteered in a Clubmobile through the American Red Cross to provide not just food, but a connection to home says a lot about her character to me.
I can’t say I would personally do the same, waking up every morning, on the brink of death, applying lipstick and a smile to lessen the ambiance of war. But she did, and so did three other women here and that makes me feel so powerful as a woman. It reminds me to remember that I am also capable of doing such a selfless act for principles of freedom. However, it also reminds me that freedom comes at a price.
We’re amongst that price of 9,387 dead, in which Richardson contributed smiles through doughnuts, gum, cigarettes, newspapers, and music (Bosshart, 2014) while others contributed bullets and bombs. The peace that emanates from her story signifies hope in humanity in a time of genocide, where she only contributed compassion and everyday experiences war desensitizes soldiers from.
A quote from Richardson reads, “I consider myself fortunate to be in Clubmobile–can’t conceive of anything else. It’s a rugged and irregular and weird life, but it’s wonderful. That is as wonderful as anything can be under the circumstances.” Though Richardson was only twenty-seven at the time of her death, she managed to be an empathetic figure of a mother, sister, girlfriend, and wife to all the men she encountered.
Ultimately, her sacrifice is something I’ll never fully understand but can learn from to be a better person. Seeing the “wonderful” in such a bleak time is the hope we can hold onto like many fighters and victims of World War II have demonstrated.
Currently, recent politics seem to foreshadow this historic recurrence in which we will need individuals like Richardson to see the “wonderful” again and try to forget fighting but compassion for one another, be it through coffee, doughnuts or a smile.
American Battle Monuments Commission. (1970, January 01). Normandy American
Cemetery. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery
Bosshart, M. (2014, January 29). Elizabeth A. Richardson, an American Red Cross
volunteer buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy. Retrieved July 23, 2018, from http://www.outandaboutinparis.com/2011/08/elizabeth-richardson-american-red-cross.html
Indiana Magazine of History. (2013, December 30). Soldiers’ Solace: Clubmobile
Women During World War II. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://indianapublicmedia.org/momentofindianahistory/soldiers-solace-clubmobile-women-world-war-ii/
Madison, J. H. (2007). Wearing Lipstick to War. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/fall/lipstick.html
EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 20 July 2019
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