A World War II veteran from Cleveland, Texas, got the funeral he deserved on Wednesday, May 13, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Edward Richards, who served in the U.S. Army during the surge onto the beaches of Normandy, France, on “D-Day plus 6,” died on May 3. He was 96.
Richards’ family members say they had always envisioned he would get a hero’s sendoff upon his death, so they were dismayed to learn that the pandemic had changed all their plans.
“The Veterans Administration said he would get no military rites and could only have 10 people watch as they lowered him into the ground,” said his daughter, Pamela Deats of Humble. “We were told there would be a day in the future – possibly a year from now – when we could have a full military funeral for him.”
Not willing to settle for that, Deats enlisted a friend, who helped her make phone calls to every veterans organization they could find.
“No one wanted to help us because of COVID-19,” said Deats. “The irony is my father wasn’t afraid of joining the Army during the war and wasn’t afraid of storming the beaches of Normandy, and if he was afraid, he did it anyway, but I couldn’t find people who weren’t afraid to hold a funeral for him because of COVID-19.”
Deats said Neal Funeral Home of Cleveland stepped up to help, organizing for TAPS to be played as his casket was carried to a hearse before the trip to the Houston Veterans Cemetery. The funeral home also helped arrange for Patriot Guard Riders to accompany the hearse and for three local Army recruiters to handle the ceremonial presentation of the U.S. flag to Richards’ family.
“Neal Funeral Home was amazing to have something like that organized for him. It was an itty-bitty service but it was very sweet, and at least my father got some kind of recognition,” she said.
Deats said her father made a conscious decision to die.
“He lived in a retirement center in Kingwood after my mom died. He had been put on hospice because he was having trouble regulating his breathing. They said he would need a few days of treatments and then he would be back to his old self,” she said. “But my dad laid down and refused the oxygen. He was ready to go.”
Health care workers attending to her father reportedly tried to list his death as COVID-19-related, but Deats balked.
“I went ballistic. He died because he was ready to go. He had no symptoms. He had no cough, fever or any other symptom. He was alert and awake the day before he died. I literally put him in bed and he died the next morning,” she said.
Richards moved to Cleveland following Hurricane Ike. He and his late wife lived in Port Bolivar when the hurricane destroyed their home. The family relocated them further north and just a short distance from Deats’ home in Humble.
He worked as a master electrician until his retirement in the 1980s. His hobbies were bowling and fishing.
He was the father of eight children – two biological and six by marriage – though Deats said all his children were equal in his eyes.
“As any girl would tell you, he was the best father in the world. He came into my life when I was 14 years old. He was the only father I ever knew,” she said.