Branch: U. S. Army

   Rank:  Private

   Status: Killed in action

   Date of Service: WWII

   Home Town: Clearbrook

Emil Richards and his marker in the Luxembourg American Cemetery

Emil Steven Richards was born August 12, 1918 in Roseau County to Harry Elwood and Bertha Smith Richards. Harry, an Illinois native, was farming in Westport Township, Brown County, South Dakota when he and Bertha met. Bertha had been born and raised in Brown County. They were married on October 14, 1909 in Brown County. Three of their sons – Charles, Carroll and Theodore – were born in South Dakota. Harry and Bertha moved to Beaver Township in Roseau County where daughter Juletta, and sons Emil and Verland were born. By 1923 the family had moved to a farm in Leon Township, Clearwater County, where daughters Florence and Anna and sons Harris and David were born.

Emil attended country school at the Greenwood School and ended his formal schooling when he graduated from the 8th grade, after which he helped his father out on the family farm. For a time he went to work as a farmhand on the farm of Leslie Hock in Springdale, Minnesota, then came back to the family farm. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940 in Leon Township. He was 22 years old, 5’7” tall, 175 pounds with brown eyes and black hair. He noted that he was employed by his father Harry.

Emil had gone to school with Beulah Crosby, daughter of pioneer homesteaders Ben and Lillian Crosby who farmed in Greenwood Township. Ben, a former lumberjack and worker on the Great Lakes, was currently working for the county building roads and bridges. Emil and Beulah fell in love and married on November 19, 1940 in the church parsonage in Clearbrook.

Work was scarce in northern Minnesota so Emil and Beulah moved to Illinois where Emil’s relatives lived. Emil was a talented welder so he got a job welding in a coal mine in Woodhull, Henry County, Illinois. Emil and Beulah became the parents of a son, Dick, in 1942.

Emil’s older brothers were all in the military, and Emil, thinking that the Army could use a good welder, decided to enlist as well. He enlisted at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis on July 15, 1944 with the listed civil occupation as “skilled welders and flame cutters.”

Unfortunately, the Army was in greater need of infantry replacements in the European Theater at that time. The Army sent Emil to train with the 346th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division. The Regiment arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey on October 11, 1944, where they received final processing and inspections. They boarded the Queen Elizabeth, the largest passenger ship in the world, in the port of New York on October 17th bound for Glasgow. From Glasgow, the regiment moved by train to an assembly area south of Chester, England where they spent a month receiving new vehicles and combat equipment. The order came to board ship to cross the Channel on November 28, 1944, and the regiment lined the rails to see the bombed-out shores of Le Havre, France with its harbor full of the hulls and masts of sunken ships. From Le Havre the troops moved by truck to an assembly area south of St. Saens, France for a short rest before moving to Metz, where the signs of war were still freshly in evidence from just days earlier. On December 10, the regiment received orders to relieve the 104th Infantry Regiment at Aachen at dawn the next day.

The men of the 346th were soon combat veterans. They slept in the snow, plowed through the mud and heavy fire from tanks and pillboxes. The attack shifted in the direction of Rimling, France followed by two more days of bitter fighting and heavy artillery shelling. Finally at 4:45 p.m. on December 15 the regiment crossed the German border.

Christmas Day was supposed to be at Munster but orders came down to move back to the vicinity of Reims, France. The convoy was bombed and strafed, and that night was spent in intense suffering from the agonizing cold, cramped quarters and utter fatigue.

In January, with battles in the Saar, The Belgian Ardennes and Luxembourg behind them, the 87th Division got the order to drive the enemy from Belgium and crack the Siegfried Line. The 346th Infantry Regiment, including Pvt. Emil Richards, was the pacesetter. It executed an end run to capture German supply bases at Schonberg and Andler.

Following the capture of Neuendorf the Division had earned a two-week rest to resupply and get reinforcements before the final push against the Siegfried Line. Combat resumed on February 26 with Ormont as the initial objective. Ormont was a German municipality at the foot of the Schneifel Mountains. The 346th pointed the attack on Ormont, moving along the heavily mined and booby-trapped road which caused many casualties. I Company of the 346th was pinned down for 36 hours when it encountered a road block covered by two pillboxes until a platoon of combat engineers from the 312th Engineer Battalion blasted the road block with 500 pounds of high explosives. The key terrain feature of the enemy defense was “Goldbrick Hill,” a high, bald, detached hill on which the Germans had built 15 twenty-man pillboxes. Enemy opposition was strong with deadly artillery, mortar and neblewerfel (smoke mortar) fire. Supply was extremely difficult because of the rugged terrain, so the troops spent five nights in their foxholes in bitter cold weather without blankets or bedrolls. There were dozens of casualties, many caused by tree bursts, or artillery fire fused to detonate when it impacted the tree tops, causing hot metal shrapnel and wood fragments to rain down. On March 3rd the 346th launched an all-out attack with a 20-minute artillery preparation. Using marching fire it knocked out seven enemy machine guns and captured the hill, which yielded 150 enemy POWs and inflicted 100 enemy casualties. The troops dug in for the night in a perimeter defense, all the while suffering increased artillery and mortar fire.

It is not known how Emil died, but it is known that he perished in the Battle of Ormont on March 4th, 1945. He did not get to celebrate with his regiment when the capture of Goldbrick Hill gave the troops renewed freedom of movement and broke the back of the enemy defenses in that sector of the Siegfried Line.

Pvt. Emil Richards was buried in Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg where 3,000 other Americans lie, including General George Patton. Emil received a posthumous Purple Heart. He was 26 years old, leaving a grieving wife and a two-year-old son.