Irene Richardson’s Story

She was born a on a chilly October morning – and as bred to volunteer and it came as natural to her as breathing air.

Living on a farm during World War II, some of her earliest memories include ration stamps – for gas –and a slim supply of some basics like sugar, meat and milk or tires and nylon meant she had to learn how to “make do” with what you have.   Everyone contributed to the purchase of the ration stamps.  A natural progression to volunteer and help others comes from everyone being in the same “rationing” boat.

Her dad wanted to enlist in the Army when the war broke out, but was denied because he had too many children – 5of them!  But her uncle fought in the War of Okinawa.

This also was a time when families were far more dedicated to each other – and there was never a question that a son or daughter would be sent to a relative’s home to help out when the need arose and that what happened with our subject today.   When she was about to enter high school, her elderly grandmother needed help and her aunt asked if she could move from Texas to Oklahoma to help her out.  Her Aunt saw an ad about the Navy, and although it intrigued her - she couldn’t join – but she knew that this might be the perfect outlet for our subject and encouraged her to join.

She joined the Navy on March 28, 1950, to become one of the WAVES - Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.  And WAVES were trained to take over stateside jobs where the men had been working- because they were sent overseas.  The Korean War was imminent at that time.  She barely made the cut for weight enlistment – but thankfully and much to her relief, got in.

But first she needed to travel from the recruiting station in Dallas, Texas to the recruit training facility at Great Lakes, Illinois.  The training took 10 weeks- and all during that time – she only got one 12 hour liberty.  But she paid that no never mind, because she discovered she actually enjoyed the indoctrination.  She appreciated learning all about Navy policies.  And there was some very hard labor – but after living on a farm – she found that labor not to be so arduous.
During the training- she was tested and for placement in a school and offered “Yeoman” – or secretarial school. What?! The friendly recruiter promised she could enroll in the registered nurse program – but the Navy had other ideas!!!

She wanted to become a nurse, but was told there was no nursing program anymore – and mostly the men were being medically trained to go overseas.  She had the option to decline the Yeoman’s school – which she promptly did and decided to wait for OJT – on the job training in the medical field. She was kept very busy doing odd jobs like serving the ROTC who were in Great Lakes for their summer training. But she found a new love for Chicagoans- they were very friendly to those in uniform.  When she would get some liberty- she and her friend would go into the big city, and because they were ordered to wear their uniforms, the friendly people would invite them into their homes for meals and entertainment. The city offered many other opportunities to visit the parks, museums and other public facilities for free.

Finally that day had come- she was sent to Quonset Point Rhode Island to work in a hospital for about 9 months and during that time an opening for training came up.  She had a blast there.  She worked in the dependent ward-newborn nursery – or assisting in any duty required- she was an eager learner!  Being in R.I. made it possible for her to travel to big cities like NYC and Boston when she had time off..  And she sure took advantage of that.  She and the friends she made went to see everything they could on the northeast. The Navy had a crash boat to take them to the other city – Newport, R.I. where the USO had entertainment and food for them; and it was just a place to leave your packages while you shopped.

Then wouldn’t you know it- a hospital opening in Great Lakes beckoned her back for Class A training. Although she loved R.I.;  she knew it was time to “get her life in gear” and accepted the training post.   So the Navy gave her a train ticket where she had a big adventure in New York- walking from Penn Station to Grand Central station – at night – and she had no problems- walking alone on the New York streets – I guess the Navy not only has given her some adventure- but plenty of brass!

So after another  9 weeks of training, she was stationed in the 6th Naval Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) District in Charleston, S.C. at the Naval Base Hospital – where men arrived with injuries.  Many injured limbs.  Although she was young – she had worked on a farm and had seen just about everything – so she was not taken aback with some of the sights she saw.  She found most of the men did not want to talk about their experiences, and were even a little embarrassed to have such a young and perky nurse tending to them.

She discovered – a regular nurse that she had trained with in Rhode Island was working in the hospital and was assigned to assist her!  Dear old Miss Auger!  She should have been retired, but she wasn’t- as our subject says - her guardian angels were always following her.  So she also worked with a fussy  urologist –  Dr.  Cangleosi (cane-glee-oh-see) who was very exacting with his assistants and instruments- he only asked for our subject today.

She also worked in physical therapy and occupational therapy.  She said also, they had a lot of sailors from the diving program who were injured with the “bends” or decompression sickness from their underwater experiences and had to deal with those symptoms – rashes and severe joint pain and worse sometimes. Lung problems were prevalent.

The hospital provided a colorful array of medical experiences- including guarding female schizophrenic patients –helping deliver babies and working in the newborn nursery.  You see, the hospital was also for dependents of the servicemen.  She was one of the assistants assigned ambulance duty.  When she was called upon to go with the ambulance- she knew a woman was in distress- and most times it was the wives of the servicemen who were struggling.

It was while she was working in Charleston, a group of Marines came in from the Chosin Reservoir, an epic battle in the Korean War. 38th parallel line. General Douglas MacArthur had persuaded President Truman that there was no danger of the Chinese coming to the aid of the North Koreans and that it would not be difficult to take North Korea.  But to their surprise, that tactical information was not accurate and the Army was surrounded by Chinese; about 67,000 of them.  The Marines were called in to do what they do best – recover losses of areas. The UN Marines were from all countries that were participating in the rescue of the surrounded troops.  Marines brought them out and the Air Force flew the evacuation. Some of the Naval Hospital ships were nearby and some of the evacuees were transported to the ships; others to hospitals. UN Forces withdrew to South Korea to maintain security and keep the country of South Korea intact and are our allies to this day.

Her future husband, Oscar,  was one of those men from the Chosin Reservoir.  He was taken to Charleston, S.C. on Nov 7, 1951.  They met in a Marine Corps Exchange where some of the Navy women would go to eat, because they had the best food.  They just knew they were right for each other.  One day Oscar asked her why she came over there to eat she honestly said, she loved the food!   And the women also liked going to the “slop shoot” – that’s what they called the restaurant and bar in the Exchange.

He asked her if she was going to the Marines ball – and she said she was going with a girlfriend, but she ended up meeting Oscar at the ball and HAD a ball.  She said she wasn’t looking for a husband –but Oscar was “the one” and they dated exclusively after that.  Oscar pursued her relentlessly to marry him and finally – the argument that convinced her went like this: he said he wanted to take her home for Christmas- and there was no extra bedroom, so they decided to get married Dec 20, 1951.

According to Naval regulations of the time- she was discharged from the Navy in May of 1952 on a Marriage Stipulation Bill - while experiencing morning sickness- and you know what that means!  Their first child – a son – was born on their first anniversary.

Three more children followed after that; and while she was no longer actively serving in the Navy; she and her husband, a career Marine of 20 years, always were associated with the military.  After Oscar retired from the Marines, both became civil servants.

Now while you have been hearing about all the men serving in World War II, or Korea, or some other war, know that women who also served made your tours of duty possible.  So that’s why today we are honoring one of the Navy’s finest WAVES– Irene Briggs Richardson.  Irene is a proud member of the Band of Brothers and loves her comrades –no matter what branch of the military you hail from -  everyone’s story is important to the fabric of this nation.  So everyone give a warm round of applause to Irene.

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