Elizabeth A. Richardson, an American Red Cross volunteer buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy

Elizabeth A. Richardson, American Red Cross Volunteer

Before leaving the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, I would like to tell you a little bit about Elizabeth A. Richardson, one of the four women whose bodies are buried there.

What fascinates me about Elizabeth's tale is that she was a graduate of Milwaukee-Downer College with a job in advertising who volunteered to serve in the American Red Cross. The requirements for posting overseas stipulated that the women must be single, college graduates, and at least 25 years of age. Additionally, they were required to submit reference letters and to pass a physical examination and a personal interview. Volunteers were expected to be skilled at interpersonal relations and to possess superb organizational skills. The process was so rigorous that only one in six of the applicants was selected for the Red Cross Clubmobiles.

Three "girls" were assigned to a Clubmobile that provided coffee, freshly made doughnuts, chewing gum, cigarettes, magazines, newspapers, and records to GIs while they were in the field. But perhaps more importantly, the girls' primary responsibilities were to bolster the spirits and the morale of the battle weary soldiers by chatting with them. For as Elizabeth wrote to her parents, "If you only knew what combat does to these boys--not in the physical sense, although that's bad enough--but mentally."

So much has changed in the last 67 years that it's difficult to imagine many women volunteering to wear lipstick, pour coffee and good-naturedly deflect the advances of the lonely GIs whom they were hired to serve. Elizabeth, however, wrote to her parents that "I consider myself fortunate to be in Clubmobile--can't conceive of anything else. It's a rugged and irregular and weird life, but it's wonderful. That is as wonderful as anything can be under the circumstances."  

Elizabeth died on the morning of July 25, 1945 while en route from Le Havre to Paris. Both the pilot of the two seat military plane, Sgt. William R. Miller of the Ninth Air Force, and Elizabeth were killed instantly. She was only 27 yeas old.

Her body is buried at Plot A, Row 21, Grave 5 in the American Cemetery in Normandy. 

Please visit the Red Cross Clubmobiles website to learn more about the heroic women of World War II.

For more information about Elizabeth A. Richardson, please visit the website for the National Archives.


The marker for Elizabeth A. Richardson at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy

Comments

  1. I can't imagine trying to boost the spirits of soldiers after battle but it must have felt good to be doing something. I just read The Postmistress which was set during WWII and found myself wondering whether I would have had the courage of some of the women during that time..... to wake up each day and to keep fighting in whatever way possible - a very different kind of fighting to that done on the battlefields.

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  2. Sara,

    Your feelings are very close to those of Elizabeth's, for after she joined the Red Cross with two women whom she had known in college, she told another friend that "We just had to go." There's a book, "Slinging Donuts for the Boys" about Elizabeth's life that you might enjoy:

    http://www.amazon.com/Slinging-Doughnuts-Boys-American-Woman/dp/0253221072/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1313616669&sr=8-1

    I'll have to borrow "The Postmistress" from you when I'm in Boston.

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  3. What a courageous and beautiful young woman.

    -nycgirl

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  4. nycgirl, I'm so pleased that you read this post about Elizabeth! I tried to post it on Any Port in a Storm this morning but was unsuccessful in resizing her photo. As a woman, I would really like for more people to know about the Red Cross volunteers. I had no idea that they had to have a college degree and meet such strict requirements in order to serve donuts and coffee to the guys. Many thanks for commenting!

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  5. It's a shame you weren't able to post this on Any Port, it's such a good piece. Resizing photos can be a real pain.

    It is curious that the Red Cross required that their volunteers be entirely overqualified. I wonder what the reasoning was behind that. At any rate, it took a very self-sacrificing spirit for Elizabeth to put her career on hold to "sling donuts." She probably was a ray of sunshine for many of the soldiers.

    nycgirl

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  6. nycgirl, As soon as I have a bit more time, I'm going to make another attempt to post it on Any Port. Bixa has been really helpful in offering suggestions.

    I agree that it's curious that the Red Cross had such strict requirements, especially because there weren't that many women (or men) who were college graduates in 1944.

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  7. Beautiful tribute! God Bless You!

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