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Profiles from the Archives: Joseph K. Richardson

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Joseph Kyle Richardson was born on October 12, 1894, in the town of Kenly in Johnston County, North Carolina, to Joseph S. and Mary Peele (or Peel) Richardson. By 1900, Joseph’s father was a farmer in Wayne County, N.C. By 1910, the Richardson family were living on a farm in Lenoir County, N.C., and Joseph worked for his father as a farm laborer by age 15. By the time of his draft registration for World War I, Joseph Kyle Richardson had come to live in Kenly, N.C., where he worked as a farmer.

On January 8, 1918, Joseph Richardson traveled from Kenly to Raleigh, N.C., and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the Raleigh Naval Recruiting Station. He chose to enter the Navy’s aviation section, and was sent for his naval aviation training at the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Pensacola, Florida—which was the first Naval Air Station in the Navy’s history. At this time, Richardson was holding the new-recruit rank of Landsman for Quartermaster (Aviation). By March 1918, Richardson had been transferred to the new Naval Air Station in Hampton Roads, Virginia, where he would serve in ground and maintenance activities in an Aviation Regiment. Richardson preferred the atmosphere, geography, and life of Pensacola to Hampton Roads, finding the Virginia NAS to be much more restrictive as far as leaves and downtime.

It appears that Richardson around this time began involved with the Navy’s airship program, performing maintenance, testing, and training operations out of Hampton Roads. Joseph Richardson would be one of the U.S. Navy’s first few hundred men to be trained for such a role during WWI. He would most likely have begun training in flying the airships after he reached the ranks of Quartermaster Second Class (Aviation) and Quartermaster First Class (Aviation), respectively. Little is known about his time while stationed at the NAS Hampton Roads, but photographs show Richardson made flights from Virginia up the Atlantic coast to New York City and Newfoundland between 1918 and 1919. He worked with blimps, dirigibles, and other lighter-than-air ships in his year and a half in the U.S. Navy.

It also appears that Richardson traveled to Roosevelt Field near Mineola, New York, in July 1919 to participate in the landing of the British airship R34 in July 6, 1919, as it completed its transatlantic crossing from Scotland. The R34 would complete the first transatlantic crossing in an airship in history when it arrived by in Great Britain. Navy aviation crews assisted in the landing, refilling the airship with hydrogen gas, and launching the airship for its departure from New York on July 10, 1919. Richardson’s exact role in this event is unknown, though photographs he kept indicate he was present for the event with other U.S. Navy aviation personnel. Joseph Richardson was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy on August 7, 1919, at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

By 1920, Joseph Richardson returned to live with his parents, who by then had returned to live on a farm in Johnston County, N.C. Around 1926, Richardson married Christine Holler, a teacher originally from South Carolina. The couple would come to live in the town of Fremont in Wayne County, N.C., by 1930, where Joseph worked as a farmer. The Richardson family remained living in Wayne County for the remainder of their lives. Joseph K. Richardson died on May 28, 1980, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Fremont, N.C.

To view Richardson’s WWI photographs, check out the album of his photographs on the State Archives of North Carolina’s Flickr page.

To learn more about Joseph Richardon’s WWI service, check out the Joseph K. Richardson Papers (WWI 71) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.