Private First Class
Richard Travis Townsend
B Company, 371st Field Artillery Battalion, 99th Infantry Division
Before the War
Richard Travis Townsend was born to Lester and Mabel Townsend on July 13, 1916 in Crisfield, Maryland, which is located in Somerset County along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. His father owned and operated a local pool parlor while his mother stayed home and cared for his younger brother, Jack. Townsend’s maternal grandmother, Virginia Sommers, came to live with the family when he was a teenager. Upon graduating from Crisfield High School, Townsend worked as a semi-skilled lineman and serviceman in the telephone and telegraph industry.
Early Military Career
Townsend enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 19, 1941, a month shy of his 25th birthday. Little is known about Townsend’s early career in the Army, but there was an interruption to his military service. On February 10, 1942, Townsend was relieved from active duty and transferred to the Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC) until November 21, 1942. Townsend’s ERC status coincides with the year of his father’s death at the age of 48. Records do not show what month or day the elder Townsend passed away. After this point, Townsend was assigned to the 99th Infantry Division.
371st Field Artillery Training
About a year after being reactivated, Townsend went for Artillery Training at Camp Maxey near Dallas, Texas, in November 1943. While there, he learned how to handle the 105mm howitzer. Townsend’s work with the howitzer was very important. This particular howitzer was the workhorse of field artillery during World War II. During this training, Townsend married Lillia Katherine Elrod of Dallas, Texas on May 21, 1944. They would not get to spend much time together as Townsend and the rest of the 99th Infantry Division headed to Europe in September.
The Checkerboard Division
The 99th, or Checkerboarders as they are sometimes called because their division insignia resembled a blue and black checkerboard, sailed toward Europe and arrived in England on October 10, 1944. They moved to Le Havre, France, on November 3, where they first saw the ravages of the Normandy Campaign. They made it to their final destination, the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, in December. The Checkerboarders had yet to engage in battle. According to Major General Walter E. Lauer, the most difficult task for them at the beginning was getting used to the snow and bitterly cold temperatures.
“All hell broke loose”
On December 16, 1944, the Germans caught the 99th Infantry Division completely off guard with a surprise counteroffensive which came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Fighting was fierce, but the 99th Infantry Division was successful in keeping the Germans at bay. The Germans knew this would be their last major offensive and were using every devious action, including dressing German soldiers as Americans to relay false orders. It was in these first hellish days that Townsend was killed in action on December 17, 1944. He died as a result of multiple wounds. The 99th Infantry Division would soon get reinforcements, and the battle would rage on until January when the Germans went into retreat with the Checkerboarders in pursuit. The division would eventually move into Germany and help liberate over 1,000 Jews from concentration camps.
“Battle Babies” no more
Townsend and the rest of the 99th Infantry Division had been dubbed the “Battle Babies” by Major General Laurer because of their lack of experience in war. After their brave fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and into Germany, they became seasoned war veterans. The 9th Infantry Division would become one of the most highly decorated units in Army history. While Townsend did not live to see the end of the war, his contributions surely helped to defeat the German Army.
The U.S. Army awarded Townsend the Purple Heart. He was temporarily interred near the site of death in Losheimergraben, Belgium alongside another fallen comrade. He was disinterred and reburied temporarily in a cemetery in Foy, Belgium. At his wife, Lillia’s, request, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium became his permanent resting place. Lillia Townsend decided it was best to have her husband rest eternally with the rest of his fallen comrades. He is also memorialized in his hometown of Crisfield, Maryland. In September 2011, Townsend's grave was adopted by a Belgian citizen.
99th Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, World War II Combat Operations Report 1941-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 11648); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
99th Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, World War II Combat Operations Report 1941-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 11649); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
99th Infantry Division, January 1945; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, World War II Combat Operations Report 1941-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 11606); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
“At Henri-Chapelle.” Video File, 1:58. American Battle Monuments Commission. Posted by American Battle Monuments Commission. http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/henri-chapelle-american-cemetery#.VPUcgPnF_ng.
Combat Interviews; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, World War II Combat Operations Report 1941-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 19066); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
“The Enemy Strikes.” 1945. Video File, 10:32. YouTube. National Archives and Records Administration, November 18, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu1AIiqARiQ.
Lauer, Walter E. The Story of the 99th Infantry. Paris: Stars and Stripes, 1944-1945. http://www.lonesentry.com/gi_stories_booklets/99thinfantry/.
Records for Richard Townsend; World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [Electronic File], Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD [retrieved from the Access to Archival Databases at http://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=3360&cat=WR26&bc=,sl, December 1, 2014].
“Richard Townsend.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed February 22, 2015.
Richard Townsend, Official Military Personnel File, Department of the Army, RG 319, National Archives and Records Administration - St. Louis.
Richard Townsend, Individual Deceased Personnel File, Department of the Army.