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Willie Edward Richardson

Submitted by: Sherrill Rayford, Ed.D {Grandchild}

Willie Edward Richardson head shotWillie Edward Richardson born around April 4, 1895. Willie Richardson served in World War 1 with the United States Army . The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1917.

Story of Service


Memories: Willie Richardson, A World War I Veteran

My grandfather, Willie Richardson, was a veteran of World War I, and his experiences symbolize the service and family life of many African American soldiers. Unfortunately, their military service occurred during a period of “nots.” They could not eat in certain businesses; they could not live in certain neighborhoods; their service was often overlooked or devalued.

Yet, my grandfather and those soldiers defended the world and prospered within limitations.

Yet, the invisibility of my grandfather’s service seemed invisible in 2018 as I viewed a pictorial display of World War I soldiers in an Arkansas Welcome Center. None of the soldiers in the display looked like my grandfather. Therefore, I contacted the Arkansas visitor’s bureau to express that soldiers of color should be commemorated too. The communication exchange was informative and productive as I learned of efforts to find and preserve the service of Arkansas’ soldiers of color during World War I.

However, I also learned that my grandfather’s two brothers also served in World War I. Before the communication exchange, I thought one of my grandfather’s brothers had been killed in another war. This perception came from visits to his home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and watching him reflectively hold papers and a folded flag that belonged to one of his brothers. Afterwards, he returned the materials to a cedar chest beside his bed.

It was fascinating to learn the three brothers served in the Army during World War I and returned home safely, but I refrain from imagining the anguish my great grandfather, a widower, endured when sending his only children to war.

My grandfather never spoke of his service or his brothers’ military service. Yet, it was what he did for me after his life of service that provides insight into his character. My grandfather instilled in me to be a person of integrity. He taught me to make a bed so precise that a flipped quarter should bounce on top of the spread; he demonstrated how to make Potato Soup, the only dish he could cook; he instructed me to hold my head upright and to be a woman who envisioned a future. He spent quality time with me as we walked along the railroad tracks after he retired as an employee of the Cotton Belt Railroad system, and he spoke of a man named Randolph. My grandfather drank a shot-glass of Jack Daniel’s whiskey each morning, frequently smoked a sweet-smelling cigar, and walked daily to meet his friends each afternoon. He encouraged me to excel in school, but he did not know that my mother revealed to me that he could not read or write. My grandfather was extremely neat and clean, liked a crease in his Khaki pants, owned three homes, treated his wife with dignity and respect, loved Vanilla ice cream, and was uniquely comical with an insight his friends called “mother-wit.”

My grandfather lived in my life for eighteen seasons. Sadly, his service became relevant the last three years of his life. While in a city hospital, it was discovered that he was a veteran, and policy mandated his transfer to the Fort Roots Veterans Administration Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas; he died in 1975.

Finally, Willie, and brothers Moses and Guy are posthumously recognized and remembered with all the brave veterans of World War I. Willie Richardson image




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