Leonard Richardson, World War II Combat Medic
In 1940 near Leonard Richardson’s home in Kinder, Louisiana he saw some soldiers camped in the woods. They were a part of the largest military maneuvers ever conducted. The soldiers were wearing bright red keystone shaped patches. In 1943 Leonard would be wearing that same patch on his shoulder.
He received his draft notice in 1943 and got three deferments so that he could finish high school. Almost immediately after graduation he was ordered to report to Camp Barkley in Abilene, Texas.
At Camp Barkley he was assigned to duty as a medic. It was not what he would have chosen. It was the army’s choice for him. The training at Camp Barkley lasted 17 weeks. He trained as an infantryman and as a medic in that time. Medical training was very basic, he was taught “to put a patch on and that was about all” he says.
From Texas he went by train to Camp Reynolds, Pennsylvania. It was there that he became a member of the 28th Infantry Division and was given the red patch of the “Keystone Division”.
After another train trip the division was at the New York Port of Embarkation and then by troopship to Glasgow, Scotland. The next train carried them to Southampton, England. There they would become part of the largest amphibious landing in history. The preparations were for the landing on June 6, 1944 or D-Day, as it became known.
“I stepped off the ramp of the landing boat into neck-deep water and had to get ashore from there.” Richardson said. He found himself on Omaha Beach in some of the worst combat of the invasion. “I saw paratroopers from the 101st Airborne coming down and being shot in the air, they were helpless and it was the saddest thing I had ever seen.” Richardson said. He goes on to say “all I had was a medical bag with gauze patches, sulfa powder and morphine. About all I could do was to try to stop the bleeding and try to get the guys out of the shooting.”
After they were able to break out from the beach they started walking and fighting through the hedgerows. These were thickly planted, tangled growths intended to form fences for livestock. “They made a terrible place to have to fight. We could hardly get through them. We were on one side and the Germans were right across from us” he said.
The objective after Normandy was Paris. Hitler had said that the 28th Division would never march through Paris. Paris had been liberated and the entire 28th marched through Paris. “We showed him. We marched through twenty-four abreast. It took us six hours to go all the way through. We just marched through Paris and kept going, we never stopped” Richardson said.
The division mostly marched but at times they rode in 40 and 8’s. These were French rail cars that were designed to hold 40 men or 8 horses. Richardson says, “these were a mess we had our duffel bags and other gear and there were forty of us and we didn’t have room to lay down and not much room to sit we were just crammed in there. No way to rest.”
One trip made in the 40 and 8’s was to the town of Colmar, France. The town had been liberated by U.S. forces but was taken back by the Germans. The 28th Division was assigned the job of retaking Colmar from the Germans.
“It took us a long time to retake Colmar, I really don’t remember how long. The fighting was very hard and we took some losses. It was bad,” Richardson said.
The division was constantly on the move and seldom got “real food” they ate mostly K rations and D rations. Both were just barely edible. He says, “the D rations were the worst. They were a hard chocolate candy bar that had some bad tasting stuff in it.”
Richardson said “We stayed on the move all the time. We had to always be pushing the Germans because if we quit pushing them they would push back on us. Our job was to fight them hard.”
The Battle of the Bulge was a long period of hard combat and the roughest fighting in the Bulge was in the Hurtgen Forest. By the time the 28th Division got to the Hurtgen Forest one of the worst winter storms in history had set in. It was extremely cold and the men never had enough clothes to stay warm. Richardson said, ”the best thing we had was our big overcoat, it was heavy but it was the thing that kept us the warmest. We could not dig in because the ground was frozen. We just did not have much cover.”
In the Hurtgen Forest there were two dangerous weapons that the Germans used against the American troops. They were the “Buzz Bombs” and the “Screaming Meemies.”
“The Buzz Bombs were scary because you never knew where they were going to land. We would hear the engine start to sputter and then it would stop and it would be quiet. All we could do was just to wait it out and hope they didn’t come down on us. The Screaming Meemies made a really loud noise like screaming. They scared us too, but most of them went overhead. They were really big artillery shells,” Richardson said.
In the Hurtgen Forest Richardson and three other medics were carrying a badly wounded man. A sniper shot the medic next to Richardson and one behind him. They were both friends who had been with him since his training days. It was one of several close calls for the combat medic.
The Germans gave the 28th the nickname “Bucket of Blood” because they were such a hard fighting division. They 28th constantly pushed the German forces hard and kept them in retreat. The German commander of the Fifth Panzer Division said that the 28th was the division that he feared the most.
When the war ended Richardson was in a small town in Germany. The division was taken back through Belgium and France to Normandy where it had all begun for them. “The American Cemetery was a sad sight. There were so many white crosses it looked like a huge flock of sheep”, Richardson said.
After 285 days in combat Richardson boarded a troopship for the trip back to the United States. He was discharged at Camp Flanagan, Florida.
Richardson said, “they talked to me at Flanagan and told me I could have any rank up to captain if I would stay in the army. I told them all I wanted was my “Ruptured Duck’, I was getting out.” The “Ruptured Duck” was the pin that was the symbol of discharge.
After being back home in Kinder, Louisiana for about two years he found out that jobs were available in Port Arthur, Texas. He worked for Gulf Oil for 37 years before retiring in 1983.
In 1948 he married his girlfriend Bonnie and on November 4, 2008 they will have been married 60 years.
Leonard Richardson is typical of his generation. He was called to do his duty and he did it to the best of his ability. His duty was more dangerous than most but he does not complain about it. He earned five Battle Stars for Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe, and Ardennes. He is a member of the “Greatest Generation” and like most of them he does not eat Spam.