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From the Archives: Elliot L. Richardson Remembers D-Day

By Tim Wells

May 26, 2017

During World War II D.C. Bar “Legend in the Law” Elliot L. Richardson served in the armed forces and participated in the D-Day invasion of Europe. In recognition of Memorial Day, we reprint the accounts he gave of that historic day in the Legends interview. 

Elliot RichardsonUpon graduation from Harvard you entered the Army in 1942 and fought in World War II. Where were you stationed?

Elliot Richardson: I was with the 12th Regimental Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division and participated in the D-Day landing. We were on the line facing the Germans from D-Day through VE-Day for all but a total of about 20 days. My regimental combat team had a 300 percent casualty rate—three times more casualties for the combat team as a whole than its normal strength. We took such a pasting between the landing at Normandy and the Allied Breakthrough that we were selected to be the first American unit to go into Paris.

You were awarded the Bronze Star for heroic service. What brought that about?

ER: I was a litter-bearer platoon leader. The job of my litter squads was to get to the wounded at the earliest possible moment. As I said, we were engaged in very heavy fighting from D-Day on. More than once I went through our own lines and ran into Germans because I didn’t know where the lines were. As a litter-bearer I wore a red cross on my helmet and a red cross arm band, and my jeep was painted with red crosses. But that didn’t keep me from getting fired at. Our only job was to get to the wounded and then get them to a point where they could get medical care. I was awarded the Bronze Star for a full week of that kind of activity when we were under very heavy fire.

Do you think your experience in the war had a significant influence on your later career?

ER: Yes. Those were the most intense experiences of my life. I suppose the most powerful attitude it burned into me was a disposition to take one thing at a time and push aside fear. I thought I was going to be killed. The casualties were so heavy, it was just a given. I learned to take each day, each mission, as it came. That’s an attitude I’ve carried into my professional life. I take each case, each job, as it comes. I think the war must have had quite a bit to do with that.

The other thing I came away with was a sense of our common humanity as individuals. During those many months of combat, I felt a very strong sense of the equal dignity and value of all my fellow soldiers. That too has stayed with me.