Michelle Gonzalez: Normandy as Text 2018

Michelle Gonzalez: Normandy as Text 2018

ELIZABETH A. RICHARDSON
BY MICHELLE GONZALEZ

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. 

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. 

References 

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
COPYRIGHT © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Isabella Marie Garcia: Normandy as Text 2019

Isabella Marie Garcia: Normandy as Text 2019

DOLORES BROWNE
BY ISABELLA MARIE GARCIA, 2019


for Dolores Browne

Sergeant of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps. 

Drafted from Connecticut.

Gone on July 13th, 1945 and only 23, maybe 24, years old.

I know you served in the first and only all-female, all-black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps. Number 6888th. I know you’re one of only four women buried in this very ground as a result of your service. I know you were one of three black women killed in a Jeep accident in France and that your fellow comrades and gracious French citizens had to raise money in order to organize your funeral. I know you were the only one of those three women who died days later as a result of your injuries and that no other traces can be found of where you come from. 

Who claims you?

That’s all I know of you. 

The women of the 6888th Postal Directory Battalion, also known as the “Six Triple Eight,” went by one motto:

No mail, no morale. 

They converted temporary post offices into demanding workstations, with several shifts of sorting through sky high piles of letters and packages in order to get mail to its proper owner. Even if there were 1,000 Robert or John Smiths fighting in Europe, they would find the exact man to hand a personal message to, never failing in fully delivering and completing their missions. Over 855 women served in the 6888th battalion of Women Army Corps, and 150,000 served in the Women Army Corps. Their conditions were rough, their sacrifices were great, and for the women of the only all-black battalion, they were never publicly recognized for their service at the end of the war. 

I don’t know much. I don’t know who your mother is or where you went to school, if you loved coffee or smoked cigarettes. I don’t know if you owned a record player and would play the top hits with your best friends after school, I’m not sure if you had many friends or if you were a loner. I don’t know if you intended to marry or if you wanted to become a doctor. 

I don’t know who you really are but I recognize you today.

What I can guess is that you went abroad with a fire burning through your veins to prove yourself. Not just your individual persona, but the color of you skin and the hearts of your fellow sisters. You have to prove your worth when you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to anyone. I’ve felt the need to prove myself but never to your extent. 

I’ll never be in your shoes. I’m not black. I come from a Cuban family that fled to avoid persecution but the shade of my skin isn’t vulnerable in the eyes of the world.

I’m a woman but privilege is real. 

I can’t relate to much of your life, but what I do relate to, I cling to, that urge to prove yourself only to fall into a trap. Nobody there at the end of the day to recognize all of your hard work. Nobody who believes in you, or at least you think doesn’t believe in you. You’ve felt all that and I have as well.

I don’t know the details of your life, Dolores, but the circumstances you lived in and what you represented have paved the way for women of color across all fields, making strides gradually but surely. You are one of four women in this cemetery, and that’s little, sure, but it’s never been about quantity.

As a young woman of your age, I thank you for what you’ve done and what you could’ve been. You are one of 150,000 women who gave themselves to us in order to be stronger, freer women. 

I see you in the young girls who run freely without care.

I see you in the young black woman who fights gun violence and breaks her throat in protest.

I see you in the innocent black lives that are lost as a result of hatred and ignorance.

Young black women, ready to fight, not with guns, but with words and their crafts, I see you.

I see myself in you, Dolores, and for that, thank you.

AUTHOR
Isabella Marie Garcia

EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly  19 July 2019
COPYRIGHT © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Victoria Atencio: Normandy as Text 2017

Victoria Atencio: Normandy as Text 2017

COMRADE IN ARMS
BY VICTORIA ATENCIO, 2017

I don’t know you but I do
I admit I don’t know your name, your birthday, or even how you look 
But I know who you are. 

I don’t know you
But I know you lived, you fought, you died
Trying to resist a life that threatened the very core of humanity
From spreading its salute any further

I don’t know you
But I know you sabotaged the oppressors at every stage
Even from within the walls of a prison built to stifle your sprit

I don’t know you
But I know you rejected the dehumanization of the human race 
Under the constant cover of the cattle tag permanently etched onto your skin

I don’t know you 
But I know you questioned the prejudices that a seemingly meaningless act 
Could assign to your peers
Or the stereotypes it could confirm to the world

I don’t know you 
But I know you lived, you fought, you died without ever knowing who your actions would save
Simply hoping that you could

I don’t know you 
But I know that even if you were too young to understand the significance of your actions
The uniform you carry yourself under expresses it to the world 

I don’t know you 
But I know your experience as a casualty of war
Directly influenced the end of the horrors against humanity And exemplified the success of your ideals

I don’t know you 
But I know that even if you did not want to contribute the way that you did
You lived, you fought, you died so that little Lucienne Friedler and all the children from Maison d’Izieu could survive strongly, running and playing freely
Alive through the sentiments of society. 

I don’t know you 
But I know you tightly gripped the torch from Flanders fields 
And carried it zealously up the shores to certain death 
To confront a foe you could not see

I don’t know you
But I know you felt the responsibility of passing this idea
Through time and space from failing hands 
Of refusing to accept the unacceptable. 

Though you might not have done it all alone,
Anyone who had any role in this fight for freedom is responsible for it all
 
So I don’t know your name, your age, your favorite color, not even your hopes and dreams
And I’m very sorry I don’t know you
Just know that you may now sleep soundly under the poppies
Because, along with the rest of the world, 
I god damn son of a bitch sure as shit am glad that I do 
Know you 

(Editor’s note: “god damn son of a bitch” makes reference to the first English words young Joseph Weismann learned from US GI’s when they liberated France.)

EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly  19 July 2019
COPYRIGHT © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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