Learning about dad

MARQUETTE – Susan Richards Allaben cherishes the one photo she has of her with her father, William Richards.

She was only 2 when he died 70 years ago today in Normandy, France, on D-Day, serving as a major in the United States Army. He was 29 and had been living in Negaunee before joining the military.

In that precious photo, the young father holds his infant daughter, his hands cradling her tiny body. Susan was born Nov. 28, 1941 and her father was sent to training a few weeks later.

He never saw his baby girl again.

Through the years, Allaben has learned from others about the father she refers to as Bill.

“I have no memories of him,” Allaben said in a phone interview Thursday. “There’s just that one photo of me with him. My mother remarried when I was about 6 years old and we moved to (downstate) Grand Rapids.

“But she sent me to Virginia, Minnesota, every summer to be with Bill’s parents,” she said. “I’d be brought up to Ishpeming then someone would drive me to Duluth, where my Richards grandparents would pick me up,” Allaben said. “I am so grateful to my mother for that. She saw to it that I knew and spent time with Bill’s family during my childhood and growing up years. I still cherish the duck hunting and bike riding and family celebrations with many cousins and their families. I got to know my 30-some cousins.

“It’s a marvelous family.”

William Richards hailed from Minnesota, but went to college at what is now Michigan Tech University and became friends with Marquette native Allan Olson. Through Olson’s friend Ralph Archibald Jr. of Negaunee, Richards met Ralph’s sister, Mary Clemency Archibald, known affectionately as Clem.

Clem and Bill married on Aug. 31, 1940, when she was 22 and he 25. After Bill was sent overseas in early 1942, Clem and baby Susan moved in with Clem’s parents, Emma and Ralph Archibald Sr., in Negaunee.

“My mother was devastated at the loss of her young husband and treasured his letters and expressions of love during the two-plus years he was overseas,” Allaben said. “I have the memory of mother every D-Day. She’d watch the coverage, always looking for Bill’s face. When it first happened, she had difficulty believing he was gone.”

In 1962 as a college student, Susan Richards Allaben made a trip to Normandy.

“I visited Bill’s grave. I think I was the first from the family to go there,” she said. “Then in 1982, I took my mom there. She went to see the grave with me.”

Since then, many of the Richards family and the Archibald family have traveled to France to pay their respects to Bill Richards.

“All of my children have been there,” Allaben said. “Now we’re working on getting the grandchildren there. A year from now, we’re hoping to be in Normandy for D-Day.”

William Richards’ descendants through Susan and her husband Larry Allaben are Deb Allaben Gair and husband Barry Gair who have four children: Ben, Rebekah Clemency, Johanna and Gabe and live in downstate Rockford; Joseph Richards Allaben and wife Donna Sommerfeldt, who live in St. Paul, Minnesota, with son Jack; and Charles Clark Allaben and his wife, Celeste Lenon, who reside in Redmond, Washington, with their three children, Eli, Quinn, and Seth.

Susan is grateful for what her father’s family and her mother shared with her about her father.

“I think Bill was an enthusiastic person – fun-loving as well as serious,” she said. “He loved outdoor activities in the north woods and waters – hunting, skiing, sports. He came from a mining family and married into one, obtained a degree at Michigan Tech and put his learning into action when he volunteered with the National Guard.

“I think Bill must have been straightforward and trustworthy, willing to take responsibility and do his duty to his country. He advanced steadily in rank while helping to build capacity for the D-Day invasion to be successful. I think he was ‘a regular fellow.’

“(Marquette author) Larry Chabot wrote that Bill’s men ‘would later say that he was at his best when presented with difficult problems and always had their best interest in mind.’ And ‘courage and devotion to duty’ were noted in the account of the landing when he was awarded posthumously the Distinguished Service Cross.”

William Richards also was awarded a Purple Heart.