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Pearl Harbor Hero Celebrates 100th Birthday

Photograph: Joseph Richard and his daughters Connie Figueron and Brenda Langlinais. (Photograph by Bobby Ardoin)

BOBBY ARDOIN
Editor/Consulting Writer

Pearl Harbor attack survivor Joseph W. Richard celebrated his 100th-birthday Sunday afternoon with a tribute event that included state government proclamations, military salutes and personal congratulations from hundreds of St. Landry and Acadia parish residents.

Richard, who is credited with assisting in the rescue of at least 39 sailors from a pair battleships damaged during the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese naval base attack, smiled, spoke and took countless photos with the long lines of guests that waited to greet him at the American Legion Post 225 building in Church Point.

It was apparently a much-anticipated occasion for Richard, a 14-year U.S. Navy veteran credited with being the last living Pearl Harbor survivor in Louisiana and several adjoining states.

“It feels good to be here and to see all these people that are here,” Richard said.

Connie Figueron and Brenda Langlinais, daughters of Joseph Richard, admitted they were overwhelmed by the large turnout for the event.

“Daddy has been really excited about it . I’m sure his doctors didn’t agree, but he told them that didn’t matter. He was going to his party. I was concerned about it, but (Richard) was not going to have it any other way,” saidFigueron.

Richard, who lives in a rural area between Sunset and Church Point, was honored with declarations by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a proclamation from state lawmakers, Church Point city officials  and a United States flag from Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins.

American Legion representatives also presented to Richard, a knitted blanket resembling an American flag.

Heidi Meche, a military veteran and member of the Church Point-area VFW, was primarily responsible for planning the large event.

“There were a lot of moving parts that occurred for this to happen, but I had help from friends. This was something I really wanted to do for (Richard). He’s the last Pearl Harbor survivor and I know that I have always looked up to people like him,” Meche said.

A short documentary previewed at the celebration reviewed the often-told story about Richard, a naval shipfitter first class with welding skills, aided the rescue of sailors trapped below decks on the USS Arizona and Oklahoma.

Richard, stationed nearby aboard the USS Riegel, leaped into rescue vessels shortly after the attack interrupted the end of his breakfast and cut out holes in the infrastructures of both ships, enabling some sailors to emerge safely.

The documentary also recalled a later humorous incident where Richard and a fellow sailor secretly entered the office area of the U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific fleet.

During a playful moment, Richard sat in the admiral’s chair, picked up a cigar and had just fitted the admiral’s cap on his head, when Nimitz walked in unexpectedly.

Instead of reprimanding Richard, Nimitz reportedly found the incident entertaining.

“Son, that hat looks good on you. Keep up the good work and if you do, you too might have one of these (hats) some day,” Nimitz supposedly told Richard.

What has remained with Richard for the last 82 years is those killed at Pearl Harbor, Figueron said.

“He has always thought about those who were not able to come home,” she noted.

In several previous accounts detailing his rescue attempts, Richard said he remains emotionally attached to the sailors who were unable to be extricated from both sinking vessels.

“It’s sad and what hurts me is we couldn’t save them. Some of it you try to forget; you know you try, but you never forget” Richard said during a 2021 interview with WDSU television.