Eugene Richardson will never forget how he felt the day he received a military draft letter in the mail. It was Sept. 12, 1945 - less than two months after he turned 18. Even though the WWII was over, occupation troops were needed to replace soldiers who had been on extended tours of duty.
“It was quite a shock,” Richardson said.
His two older brothers were already in the Army and ready to come home after serving during WWII.
Although Richardson wasn’t happy about the new twist in his life, he was soon on his way to basic training in Camp Crowder, Missouri. Shortly after completing his training, Richardson shipped off to Europe in May, 1946.
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Richardson, along with hundreds of other troops, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a troop ship, the USS General Taylor. Richardson and his fellow troops sailed across the English Channel and watched the sunrise at the white cliffs of Dover off the English coastline. They landed at Le Havre, France and were assigned to Camp Phillip Morris where they stayed for two weeks before boarding a passenger train for Frankfurt, Germany.
When they arrived at the German border, the troops were transferred to boxcars. Richardson still remembers his first glimpse of Frankfurt through the train doors.
“I stood in the boxcar and looked out over Frankfurt and it was flat. There was nothing but rubble,” Richardson said.
This was much different than the French landscape, according to Richardson. In France there were some damaged buildings, but the towns were not demolished like they were in Germany.
Richardson was only in Frankfurt for 10 days before going to Vienna. It was June of 1946, and he was assigned to the 63rd Signal Operation Battalion and installed communication equipment.
Although Richardson had not been keen on joining the military at first, he said he enjoyed it once he got used to it. However, he did miss one person in particular - “I wanted my momma,” Richardson said, laughing.
The people Richardson met were friendly, though, and very hospitable. He said while the Red Cross was selling donuts and coffee on the street, the residents of Vienna were giving it to them for free.
“Everybody was friendly,” Richardson said. “The war was over and they were glad and we were, too.”
While in Vienna, Richardson remembers the Russians trying to take the famed Lipizzaner horses, but an American colonel put his foot down and told the Russians no. For some reason the Russians listened to that colonel and left the horses in Vienna.
One day Richardson found a reason to ride one of the Lipizzaner horses. He was the crew chief for installing phone lines to the corral and got tired of running up and down the hill all day, supervising, so he asked to ride one of the horses. A horse was saddled up for him with an English saddle - something Richardson had never used before in his lifetime.
“I got on the English saddle and almost fell off, so I rode bareback,” Richardson said, laughing. “The next day I couldn’t walk, because my legs were so sore.”
Richardson has many comical memories from his time in the military. One of those memories was his enterprising way to make money. Being a non-smoker in a popular smoking era, Richardson got his allotment of two cartons of cigarettes every week at the commissary and promptly sold them for $25 a piece.
One day during his 18 months in Vienna, Richardson slipped into an ice cream parlor to escape the rain. The parlor was only for soldiers, but Richardson spotted an Austrian woman that had somehow sneaked in and was sitting among his friends, eating ice cream. It was love at first sight. The two dated for a year and when it was time for Richardson to return home, he bought a ticket for Margarit to come to the United States, along with her son Bernie. The two were married on Christmas Eve in 1947 and were married for 50 years. Margarit passed away in January 1998. Just a couple years later, Bernie also died.
Eugene found happiness again when he married Mary Ann. The two had known each other since the 1970s when Mary Ann’s husband was Eugene’s supervisor on the railroad. A while after Margarit’s death, Eugene called Mary Ann and asked her, “What do old people do on a Friday night?”
“I don’t know. I’m not old,” Mary Ann replied, still laughing at the recollection to this day.
The two went out to dinner and began dating, and they were married on June 26, 1999. Eugene and Mary Ann both enjoy cruises and traveling, which has led them to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
“We did everything we possibly could, and I don’t regret a thing,” Mary Ann said.
Note: Some of the information in this story was selected and gathered from a memoir Eugene Richardson had published in Stories of Service II, a compilation of veterans’ stories by Janice Stevens. The rest of the information was gathered in an interview with Eugene Richardson by Tiffany Howard.