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Robert Maxwell Richey
Leaving Wellsburg, November 1940

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Robert Maxwell Richey
1909-1941

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

John 15:13

1st Lieutenant Robert Maxwell Richey, United States Army Air Corps, was born on September 15, 1909, in Wellsburg, West Virginia. Wellsburg is the county seat of Brooke County and is known for its rich history in the glass industry. Richey was the son of George W. K. and Harriet A. Anderson Richey, both of whom moved to Wellsburg from Washington County, Pennsylvania, right across the state line from Brooke County. He was born into a large family in Wellsburg, where Richey was one of six children.

The Richey family consisted of one girl, Mary, and five boys—Howard, Hobart, Russell, and the twins Richard and Robert, Robert being born an hour later than Richard. George ran the Wellsburg City power plant as its operating engineer and occupied the house next door. Later he became a specialist in wiring the large power plants being built to support the manufacturing of materials for World War I. George died of appendicitis in 1938, and Mary made the decision to forego an advantageous marriage to remain at home with her mother.
Richey family

George and Harriet’s family: Mary behind Harriet; Bob is at Harriet’s left shoulder, with Dick behind him; Hobart has the pipe; Russell is behind George; and Howard is on end.

Bob attended Central School growing up and went on to graduate from Wellsburg High School in 1927. The Wellsburg football and baseball teams were big parts of the community, and Bob grew up supporting and playing on these teams. Swimming was another popular pastime for many kids in the area, and Bob spent a lot of time with his siblings and friends in Buffalo Creek at Slanting Rock or Shadow Bend.

Bob's ROTC photo

Bob’s ROTC photo, c. 1930

When it came time for Bob and Dick to go to college, Bob’s father could afford to send only one of his twins to college, so Bob was the one chosen. Bob went on to West Virginia University from 1930 through 1934, where he was an active member of the WVU Reserve Officer Training Program. He was originally commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve and placed on inactive reserve status.

At the time of his graduation, the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, and jobs were hard to find. Robert got so desperate that he signed up as a painter to paint the bridge across the Ohio River from north of Follansbee to Steubenville, Ohio. But he couldn’t take the heights, and he had to quit. He then worked as an accountant for his brother Hobart. Finally, his ROTC training earned him a supervisory position with the federal government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), improving national park facilities in rural West Virginia, building access roads and park facilities, and planting thousands of trees. Created as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the program was designed to get young men back to work performing meaningful jobs to improve infrastructure as well as feed their families.

Bob was never married. Bob’s twin brother Richard, or Dick as he was called, also served in the military. He too was in the Army Air Corps and was assigned to a service club in California. After the war, Dick worked as a bookkeeper for Frigidaire. Before they were deployed, the two often would hang out at a place called Mingo’s near their house. Bob was known to drive around Wellsburg in his 1926 Plymouth coupe. Dick had taught himself how to play the piano, and Bob would often sing along, much to the enjoyment of those attending the parties.

Richey was called into active duty to the 11th Bombardment Group, also known as the “Grey Geese” in 1940. The group was stationed at Hickam Field in Hawaii. Construction on the base started in 1934, when the U.S. Air Force declared that their current base at Luke Field was too congested and wasn’t ready for any sort of war. The United States was also concerned with Japanese expansions in the Pacific after they invaded Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1937. Hickam Field base opened in 1938 as the nation’s largest air base, and it grew in importance as the threat of war grew even larger after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The 11th Bombardment was given the responsibility of flying the first B-17 Bombers destined for service. This new bombing plane, known as “The Flying Fortress,” was the Air Force’s largest and most advanced plane. On December 7, 1941, the base was attacked by Japanese bombers in an effort to keep the U.S. Air Force from returning any sort of resistance to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hickam Field suffered significant damage, and 139 people were among those killed in the overall attack on Pearl Harbor, with another 303 wounded at that location. (“History of Hickam Field, Joint Base Pearl Harbor—Hickam, Hawaii,” 15th Wing [Official United States Air Force Website], June 2010, accessed 26 May 2017, http://www.15wing.af.mil/Library/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/376269/history-of-hickam-field-joint-base-pearl-harbor-hickam-hawaii/.)

When the attack began, Bob Richey and another officer ran with several enlisted men in his squadron to the field to try to provide some sort of resistance. A Japanese bomb exploded near the group of men killing them instantly from concussion rather than shrapnel. Bob sustained only a small cut above his right eye in the attack, but he died from the concussion of the bomb.
Boeing B-17E

Boeing B-17E in flight. U.S. Air Force photo 060515-F-1234S018

On the night of December 7, 1941, Bob’s mother Harriet received the call informing her of her son’s death. Bob was originally buried in the Schofield Barracks Cemetery in Hawaii, but was re-interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (“Punchbowl”), also located in Hawaii, in 1949. Bob was a very distinguished soldier who won the American Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; and, most important, a Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is the oldest and one of the most prestigious awards a military member can earn, and Bob’s nephew Kaye Richey has the distinct honor of possessing this medal today.

Richey headstone

Headstone for 1st Lt. Robert M. Richey. Courtesy Jeff Hall, Find A Grave

1st Lieutenant Robert Maxwell Richey lived a distinguished life of service to his country, family, and friends. He carried with him the small-town West Virginia values with which he was raised. He valued the close relationships he had with his family, and the good times he had throughout his life. Some of the simplest things, like enjoying a nice beer from Mingo’s with his brother, mattered the most to him. His service is something every American should cherish.

Family photos and information in this biography were provided by family historian Kaye Richey, nephew of Robert M. Richey.

Article prepared by D. J. Lacy, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
2017

Honor...

Robert Maxwell Richey

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