Lean and just under 6-feet-tall, Joe Richards of Canton carries himself with the posture and bearing of the soldier he is.
Joe, 91, was drafted into the Army in 1941, just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He spent four years in the military and is one of an estimated two million living World War II veterans.
He is very hard of hearing.
"From the heavy artillery," he said.
Joe parachuted 12 times into battle in New Guinea. Once they took the island from the Japanese, they headed to the Philippines. That's where he got his worst injury. He hit a bomb crater—hard. His intestines came out.
"I spent a week in the hospital," he said, "but was glad to be alive." Once released, he walked five hours to catch up with his unit.
One day, they came upon a tiny 5-year-old girl just standing in a rice field. Fortunately, she spoke English. They asked where her parents were.
"I don't know," she told them. "Everyone is gone."
Joe’s unit took her with them and cared for her for three days and nights until they got to Manila. Amazingly, she not only had relatives in the city, but also remembered where they lived. Her family was so grateful, they sat the soldiers down and fed them. Joe kept the address, and for years sent clothes to the girl. He eventually lost track of her.
Unlike more recent wars, Joe said, the mission of World War II was not ambiguous.
"We were to keep the enemy from coming to the U.S. again," he said.
He was equally clear about his mission 53 years ago with .
"I had to marry her," he said.
After the war, his wife left him and abandoned their three children. Years later, he met Erna—the nanny—as she walked on a highway he was helping construct. They’d been on three dates when his mother insisted he tell her about his children. He did—after he wined and dined her.
"I was speechless," Erna said.
She got over the intial shock and the couple married in 1958. Together, they had two children of their own.
"Growing up," Joe said, "all five called her 'Moody,' which is German for mother."
Today, Joe and Erna have a total of 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Two missions accomplished.