July 22, 1944 (Norwalk, CT) – February 4, 1968; 23 years old
Last local address: parents both deceased; brother listed at 3 Yost Street, Norwalk
Enlisted on April 28, 1966
MOS: 0311, Rifleman
Tour Start Date: August 31, 1967
Service number: 2289425
Unit: III MAF, 1st Marine Division, 5th Marines, 1st Battalion, B Company
Born to George C. Richards (1875-1955) and Ella Georgie Richards (1906-1957). Siblings are Maxwell (1927-?), George (1928-1998), Ella Richards Feola (1929-2014) and her twin Albert (1929-2021), William (1932-2007), John (1936-1990), Elizabeth (1937-2012), Mary Anne (1952-?), and Robert (?-?).
Awarded the Purple Heart Medal
From The Norwalk Hour February 10, 1968
Norwalk has lost its 11th serviceman to the Vietnam War it learned today. Marine Lance Corporal Charles E. Richards, 23, of 126 Scribner Avenue, died of gunshot wounds in the chest suffered when he was on patrol in the village of Thua Thien on February 4, the sixth day of the current Communist offensive. A Marine Corps spokesman called Friday on Albert Richards of 3 Yost Street, advising him of his brother’s death. Details were confirmed in a subsequent telegram from the Defense Department. Funeral services will take place in one to two weeks, then Corporal Richards’ body can be transported to this country, his brother said today. They will be conducted in the Rowayton Methodist Church. Corporal Richards is the first local serviceman to be killed in Vietnam in 1968. Four of the others have been Marines. He enlisted in April of 1966 and was assigned to Vietnam last August with the First Battalion of the Fifth Marine Division. In company-scale operations, he was part of the radio team. Mr. Richards said today his brother seldom wrote of Vietnam or his work there, instead limiting his letters to personal matters. Often there would simply be a paycheck for deposit in his account here. Once such check arrived Friday, before the Defense Department telegram. Corporal Richards was born in Stamford and raised in Norwalk, attending local schools. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. George Richards. Surviving are five other brothers, George and Robert of Norwalk, John, William, and Frank of Pawling, New York; three sisters, Mrs. Elizabeth Willis of Bridgeport and Mrs. Ella Feola and Miss Mary Ann Richards of Trumbull; and several nieces and nephews.
From The Norwalk Hour February 23, 1968
FINAL TRIBUTE TO CORPORAL RICHARDS
Bitter cold chilled the saddened Norwalkers who paid their final tribute Thursday to Marine Lance Corporal Charles E. Richards, 23, of 126 Scribner Avenue. Corporal Richards died from gunshot wounds in the chest suffered while he was on patrol in Thua Thien, Vietnam on February 4 during a fierce Communist assault on the village. The Marine is the first local serviceman to be killed in 1968 and the 11th Norwalker to make the supreme sacrifice in the Vietnam War. Full military services for Corporal Richards were held Thursday in the Rowayton Methodist Church with Reverend Richard N. Ryley, pastor, officiating. Interment was in the veteran’s section of Riverside Cemetery with Reverend Ryley reading committal prayers. A Marine Honor Guard led by Major Michael J. Zachodni, consisting of Sergeant Barry L. Edmonds, Sergeant John P. Downs, Corporal Willie L. Odom, Corporal Earl D. Martin, Corporal Earl D. Martin, Corporal Samuel A. Kirkpatrick, Private First Class Edward M. Leonard, and Corporal Eugene K. Holland, accorded the deceased full military honors. Pallbearers were Staff Sergeant Arden Adelgais, Sergeant Michael L. Garee, Staff Sergeant Charles H. Gay, Staff Sergeant Otis M. Hollman, Staff Sergeant Dean E. Kaple, and First Sergeant John R. McInnis. Musician Third Class Thomas Bruce, USN, sounded Taps. Mayor Frank N. Zullo led a delegation of city officials and veterans organizations at the funeral services. Although Corporal Richards came from a large family — six brothers and three sisters — he was reticent about discussing war with them. His letters home were about personal matters. They often contained only a paycheck for deposit in his account. The Norwalk Marine was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. George Richards. He is survived by six brothers, George, Albert, and Robert of Norwalk, William of Bridgeport, John of Southbury, and Frank of Pawling; three sisters, Mrs. Elizabeth Willis, Mrs. Ella Feola, and Miss Mary Ann Richards, all of Bridgeport, and several nieces and nephews.
From An American Town and the Vietnam War by Tony and Matt Pavia. Used with permission.
Four days after the start of the Tet Offensive of 1968, the First Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment left their base in Thua Thien Province on a large-scale search and destroy operation. Headquarters had received intelligence indicating that local Viet Cong planned on recapturing the village of Phu Loc from Marine control, and the 1/5 were tasked with preventing this from happening. While A and B Companies were setting up for an ambush, they were attacked by a force of two hundred Viet Cong. A firefight ensued, the VC fled under cover of darkness, and the operation was deemed a success. But for Lance Corporal Charles E. Richards, who was fatally wounded in the attack, it marked the end to a brief, difficult life.
George Richards was sixty-seven and his wife, Ella, was thirty-eight when their eighth child, Charles, was born. At the time of his birth on July 22, 1944, his siblings ranged in age from seven to seventeen. George and Ella died when Charles was a boy, and the siblings were split up. Some were grown and had families of their own, but the younger children were scattered. “There were periods of time when we didn’t know where Charles was,” says his sister-in-law Connie, wife of his brother Albert. “Then one day his other brother Johnny came to our house and said that he’d found Charles.” He had been living in a foster home in Weston. When he was old enough to live on his own, Charles made his way back to Stamford, where he rented a room downtown at the Hotel Hazelton. It is not clear how long he resided there, but in 1966 or 1967, he decided to join the Marine Corps. Like countless young men before him, he must have felt that the military would give his life meaning and a sense of belonging that had eluded him. “I really think it would have been his chance,” Connie says. Packing his few belongings and turning in his room key, he left the Hotel Hazelton for boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina. Albert and Connie Richards kept in touch with Charles, welcoming him into their Norwalk home whenever he was on leave. “We were older, with kids, and he had no one,” Connie recalls. “We were close to parents.” During these sojourns, Charles got a brief glimpse of the stable family life his childhood lacked. “He loved playing with our kids,” said Connie. “He was a wonderful uncle.” Just before his last visit to Albert and Connie’s home, in 1967, Charles learned that he was being deployed to Vietnam, and there was something he needed to tell his sister-in-law. For Connie, what Charles said is still engraved in her mind: I was vacuuming, and Charles came over and shut the vacuum off. “Sit down, I need to talk to you,” he said. The Marines told him he had to explain to us what might happen to him, and what would happen if he were to die. I just kept telling him, “Nothing’s going to happen to you; you’re going to be fine.” Some things I don’t remember as I get older, but I cannot erase that conversation.
Albert and Connie decided to go camping that weekend, which would be their last with Charles. “We just packed up the car — two kids, Charles, and the dog. We all slept in one tent,” Connie remembers. When the Marines knocked on the Richards’; door on February 5, the family was visiting Charles and Albert’s sister Ella, who had just given birth in nearby Trumbull. Their neighbor, seeing the uniformed Marines, called Connie in Trumbull, letting her know that she should probably return home. Later that evening, a Marine Corps Major and Sergeant returned. “The only thing I could think to say to them was, my brother-in-law had nobody. I hope he went in place of a married man with children,” Connie says. Soon after that painful day, Charles Edward Richards was laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery in Norwalk. “He had a very rough life, from pillar to post,” said Connie. “But I know that he knew we cared about him. If he had lived, we would have kept him near us. We wouldn’t have let go of him.”
Lance Corporal Richards is buried at Riverside Cemetery, 81 Riverside Avenue, Norwalk, Connecticut; Section 11, Plot 302. Photo by webmaster.