Separated from his family and his country by 6,700 miles and 63 years, Army Private 1st Class Arthur Richardson came home last week, as a Funeral Mass was held for him at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington, and he was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The native of Fall River, Mass., was serving with the U.S. Army during the Korean War in January 1951, when his infantry unit came under heavy attack during a battle north of Seoul, South Korea. Pfc. Richardson, who was then 28, was reported missing in action, and his status was changed to presumed dead three years later. In the early 1990s, North Korea turned 208 boxes over to the United States containing what are believed to be the remains of more than 400 U.S. servicemen who fought during that war. Using DNA testing and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and Armed Forces DNA Laboratory were able to match Pfc. Richardson’s remains with family members.
“We have a great debt of gratitude to our brother, not just our nation, but our church,” said Msgr. Charles Pope, the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church and the homilist at the Sept. 18 Mass. The priest, who noted that several of his family members have served in the military, said he was honored to celebrate the Mass for Pfc. Richardson.
“Our brother laid down his life in a far-off land,” said the priest, who quoted Jesus’s words in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”
The Funeral Mass was celebrated in Latin. Before the liturgy, Pfc. Richardson’s niece, Flo Mezger, explained, “When he was a child and went to church, his church services were in Latin, and I just wanted to have a Latin Mass (for him)... We were brought up Catholic, and I just feel like this is the right thing to do.”
The family sought a Catholic church not far from Arlington National Cemetery where a priest could celebrate a Latin Mass to honor Pfc. Richardson, and Msgr. Pope offered to help them.
Mezger, who is now 71 and now lives in Savage, Md., has fleeting memories of her uncle, whom she last saw when she was a young girl. “I know when he was in the service, my mother, sister and I used to go to his house, and play with his son. His wife used to baby-sit us. I was little (then) and he seemed like a big man.”
She said that Pfc. Richardson’s wife later died, and the family doesn’t know what became of their son. Her own mother, who was close to Pfc. Richardson, died in the 1980s. Mezger praised her uncle’s sacrifice, and she noted that when she and other family members gathered at Reagan National Airport for the arrival of his casket earlier that week, “It was emotional.”
Standing on the steps of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church moments before the Funeral Mass, Mezger’s sister, Elaine Cova of Laurel, said, “I’m just really happy for my mom, to have her brother found and brought home. He was the closest one in the family to her.
“I think of him as a hero. I can’t even imagine what he went through,” she said. “I think it (the Funeral Mass) is something he would want, for God to also welcome him home.”
The pallbearers carrying Pfc. Richardson’s flag-draped coffin into and from the church included three young men in his family wearing dress uniforms who now continue his legacy of serving their country: a member of the U.S. Marines, a seaman from the U.S. Coast Guard and a Montgomery County firefighter. Two members of the U.S. Army stood at attention and saluted the casket as it entered the church.
During the Mass, Father Michael Bryant – a longtime chaplain at the D.C. jail who has also served as a military chaplain over the years – also addressed the congregation of about 50 mourners.
“It’s a reminder to all of us, that the cost of freedom comes with a price,” the priest said. Father Bryant said that Arlington National Cemetery was a place of transition, and not the fallen soldier’s final resting place. “He’s now with the Lord, and will rest in peace at Arlington Cemetery, until the day the Lord comes and welcomes him home.”
Earlier in the Mass, Msgr. Pope had prayed that God, and the martyrs and saints, would welcome Pfc. Richardson to heaven.
At the end of the Funeral Mass, words unsaid for six decades concluded with Msgr. Pope standing near the soldier’s casket that had been placed before the altar, chanting three words, “Requiescat in pace,” Latin for “Rest in peace.”