WWII vet looks back
Rockport — From breaking his back as a toddler and living to walk again to fighting in World War II and returning home with a Purple Heart, 92-year-old Lloyd Richards of Rockport has defied odds all his life.
Richards was born in Searsmont and grew up on a 300-acre Moody Mountain farm until the barn burned one night in 1938. The blaze claimed cattle, horses, and equipment, leaving the family penniless during the Depression.
When the family resettled in Thomaston, Richards, a young teenager, stayed on a neighboring farm to work for another year and a half.
"I loved it, I wish I had one today," he said of working the land and raising animals.
Richards recalls traveling to school on cross-country skis in the winter because the roads were not plowed on the mountain. During that year, he worked for board and room, and got 25 cents a day in the summer.
"I can do anything. I don't care what it is, carpentering, electrical work, plumbing, car work. My father could, too. When you own a farm you have to do all that stuff," he said.
At 2 years old, he broke his back crawling on a truck wagon and his family was told he would never walk again. When he was 21, the doctor told him he could not go to war because of the injury.
"I told him three or four times I did not break my back," he said. He lied, because he felt it was his duty as a man to fight for his country.
Finally, the doctor relented, and Richards was drafted into the Army at age 21.
When he enlisted, he was 5 feet, 2 inches and when he left the service, he was 5 feet, 8 inches.
"It had to be the Army Ranger training, he said. "My hair was curly too, and my mother told me if she saw me on the street she wouldn't even know me."
He trained in VA to be a surgical technician, and first landed in Casablanca in North Africa.
Richards' friend, who lived in Camden, had an idea one day, and told him they should join the Rangers. "I asked him, what's that, and he replied, 'I think its with horses, like a cavalry.'"
"I said, that's for me I don't gotta walk," Richards said.
He was one of the original Rangers, missing only one battle and was awarded the Purple Heart for surviving combat behind enemy lines where he was hit with mortar ammunition.
"I was peppered all along my chest and stomach," he recalled. He could not get out to see a doctor and was on the mountain for five days until the infantry broke through. "We never had doctors, we had to patch ourselves up," he said. "When I go to the doctor, they ask, and I tell them I might still have metal in my chest."
With 65 men in the elite force, they were continuously on the move and relied upon to take mountains and terrain from the enemy that the infantry could not always manage alone.
Richards said in the Rangers, soldiers were supposed to buddy up. He partnered with two men from Missouri, and they were called The Three Musketeers.
"I was the only one of the three of us who made it home," he said.
He later joined the special forces and fought in many campaigns during the war, traversing across Europe through Italy, France, Germany and Holland.
Richards feared death until he had fought in two invasions and felt he should have been killed.
"After a few battles, I never was scared no more," he said.
"I figured, when my father lost his farm, he said to me, 'Jesus came to him and told him not to worry, you'll have everything you'll ever want. My father said, I did."
He recalls looking at the sky and watching a mortar shell falling toward him. "I put my hands out to catch it, and it seems though somebody told me to pull them back. I wouldn't have had hands if I didn't... that shell landed 2 feet from me and didn't explode," he said. It was a dud.
Although he survived, he cannot forget the war. "I can see all of the battles, just like looking at the television, " he said.
Richards, describing his time during the war also speaks often of food as their provisions during the war were standard rations. He described a large orange grove near Naples, where he and other soldiers were helping themselves to the citrus fruits. "But Jiminy Cricket, the guy that owned them went to the general and told them we were eating the oranges. That was a mistake, because the next night, we picked them all."
Another time, the soldiers all chipped in and bought a cow to slaughter and eat, when they got orders to move out. " We had to give the cow back, " he said, laughing.
When Richards was released from service, he went rollerskating in Rockland on Saturday nights, where he met 16-year-old Eliza Colson. When she asked if he wanted to get married, he recalled telling her they should wait until she was 18, shaking his head as he retold the exchange. "The day after her birthday, we were married... I thought that was pretty good," he said.
"She wanted me and that was it," he said. " We had a wonderful marriage. I would give everything I own if she was still here." Eliza passed away in December 2013.
Only twice in their 64 years together were they apart, when she went to Massachusetts and Florida. "Money never did, and it don't now, ever meant anything to me. Happiness means more than anything, and we had it, " he said of his union with Eliza.
"We never had an argument, no sir, we never did," he said.
Working hard his entire life as a young man, and then later to provide for his family, Richards worked as a cooper, making lobster barrels, as a fisherman, and carpenter. He built the two houses he and Eliza made their home during their marriage.
In Richards' tidy home, this reporter asked if his fastidiousness was from his Army training. "No, no, when I was in the Army I was outdoors all the time, in fox holes. Nope, it's my wife, she always kept a spotless house," he said.
His advice to people, from his decades of experience, is simple. "Stop your drinking and smoking and work for something so you own it. The heck with the new cars," he said." I wanted something, and my wife did too. We worked for everything we had."
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at email@example.com.
594-4401 ext. 118
Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.