THOMASBORO — James Richardson said he got a lump in his throat when he saw how military veterans are treated in Washington, D.C.
Richardson, who returned from a one-day Land of Lincoln Honor Flight trip of Korean and Vietnam war veterans to the nation’s capital last week, said virtually everyone there treats the veterans with respect.
An example came at many of the monuments where school children of all ages were also present.
One group of young people formed a line and came through shaking the veterans’ hands. Richardson said the students’ teacher later told them he never told the children to do that. They did it on their own.
The 81-year-old retired contractor was accompanied on the flight by his grandson, Forest Park resident Jacob Marchetti, who will be entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and acted as his guardian. Each of the 58 veterans was accompanied by a guardian who paid his or her own way. The veterans’ trip is free — paid for from donations.
“It was wonderful,” James Richardson said. “We went to all the monuments, the wall, went to the Pentagon. It was a great tour. The care that they give the veterans with this honor flight is just astronomical. You don’t have to do anything. They’re at your beck and call . We were treated like royalty.”
Richardson said the excursion went like clockwork, it was so well-organized.
The veterans were conveyed about on buses. A view of the luggage compartment of the buses showed the age of the occupants. Instead of luggage, the compartments were loaded with wheelchairs.
He said his favorite stop was probably Arlington National Cemetery, where they saw Audie Murphy’s grave, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the impressive changing of the guard.
“The sergeant of the guard was within 6 feet of me, so I have a wonderful video,” Richardson said. “They change the guard every half hour. As they turn, they slap their heels together. This is in honor of the veterans that are still alive. It’s an honor for us to hear this.”
Each guard carries a World War 1-era Springfield rifle. He said in honor of the dead, the guard carries the rifle on the right side while walking south and on the left side when walking north.
Richardson said the Iwo Jima monument was also impressive. In addition to various other military monuments, the veterans visited the National Air and Space Museum.
Growing up on a farm west of Ludlow, Richardson knew he would be drafted after graduating high school in 1956, so he enlisted. He wanted to get his military service over with. It was three years after the end of the Korean War.
He served as a forward observer in an Army artillery unit. While a cease fire was signed in 1953, an armistice has never been signed, and North Korea and South Korea remain antagonists. Richardson said there “were a couple of skirmishes” in the demilitarized zone separating the two companies while he was there.
Richardson served a 16-month tour of duty — one of the last overseas tours of duty of that duration, he said. Since then the military has shortened them to 12 months.
Richardson married and moved to Thomasboro. He and his wife, Gertie, have five children.
After exiting the Army, he helped his father farm for a while before going into the construction business. In 1975, he built the house where he and his wife continue to reside on Main Street, Thomasboro.
He helped to build the Rantoul bowling alley in 1964 as well as all of the houses in Maplewood subdivision and the subdivision that sits in back of the old Wings restaurant, which is now the American Legion building.
Richardson started his own business in 1973 and was a partner with Ken Medler in M&R Builders until he sold out to him. Richardson retired in 2000, although he still occasionally runs a backhoe for Medler.