Eugene Richardson, 48, veteran of Vietnam, shipyard worker

October 04, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Eugene B. Richardson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and longtime shipyard worker who fought to keep Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard from closing, died Wednesday of a heart attack while playing golf with his son at Quail Valley Golf Course in Littlestown, Pa. He was 48.

Mr. Richardson, formerly of Dundalk and Finksburg, moved to Littlestown in 1995. He began working at the shipyard as a laborer in 1970 and, at the time of his death, he was general foreman of the carpenter shop.

"He was always saying, 'I build ships. That's what I do best, and that's what I like to do,' " his wife of 24 years, the former Linda Brown, said yesterday.

Mr. Richardson was seldom without his POW-MIA cap and Bethship shirt. He was a member of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America Sparrows Point Local 33 from 1975 to 1985.

He had been a shop steward, trustee and negotiator before leaving the union when he moved into management positions at the shipyard.

"He cared about the workers there -- they were like family to him," Mrs. Richardson said.

Helen Delich Bentley, a former congresswoman and federal maritime commissioner, said, "Gene's heart was always in the shipyard.

"Whenever there was a downturn in business, he was always on the phone to find out what might be done to turn things around. He never wanted to leave there. He loved the place," she said. Mr. Richardson was scheduled to return soon to work at the 107-year-old shipyard, which was taken over this week by Baltimore Marine Industries Inc. "I have nothing but good things to say about him," said David Watson, Bethship Inc. president for 14 years, and now president of Baltimore Marine Industries Inc.

"The workers, mechanics and management all respected him. He expected a fair day's pay for a fair day's work," Mr. Watson said. "He was dedicated to Bethlehem and will be sorely missed."

Steve Sullivan, director of human resources at Bethship, described Mr. Richardson as a "very principled person who never wavered under adversity."

Mr. Richardson was a former Marine Corps rifleman who started each day by raising the American and POW flags at his Pennsylvania home.

Born on March 17 -- St. Patrick's Day -- he was raised in Fells Point and attended Patterson Park High School until 1967 when he left to join the Marines.

He later earned a General Educational Development high school diploma and attended Dundalk Community College where he studied labor relations and business management.

He served with a rifle company in Vietnam, where he was shot in the stomach. Thirty days later, after being treated, he returned to the front lines.

During the battle of Khe Sanh in 1968, Mr. Richardson was seriously wounded after a grenade shattered the back of his skull. He was the only member of his unit to survive and spent a year recovering.

"He carried six pieces of shrapnel in his neck the rest of his life and even though he was in constant pain, he never complained," Mrs. Richardson said. "My husband literally rose from the dead 30 years ago and he knew that he really shouldn't even be alive."

When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982, Mr. Richardson was so overwhelmed by its symbolism, he stayed for three days straight and visited frequently since, most recently several weeks ago. He did not miss a Veterans Day celebration in 14 years.

"The war changed his life forever, and he knew it," said his son, David Richardson of Littlestown.

"He would go there and stand and caress the names of the men he knew and say that there was a 'story behind each name.' The Wall really helped heal those terrible memories for him," he said.

He was discharged in 1969, and his decorations included two Purple Hearts, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign with Device.

Services for Mr. Richardson will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Eline Funeral Home, 934 S. Main St., Hampstead.

In addition to his wife, and son, he is survived by a daughter, Kimberly Wedderien of Dundalk; a sister, Catherine Richardson of Baltimore; and two grandchildren.

Pub Date: 10/04/97

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