Mr. Jack's Story

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

With the music of Patsy Cline softly playing in the background, Jack Richardson tries to get comfortable in his wheelchair.

Offering any visitor a cold beverage, he seems to wait to make sure everyone is listening before he begins.

He’s got one heck of a story to tell.

It’s a story close to a century in the making. It involves a Yazoo boy looking out for submarines, watching the Lincoln Memorial take a hit from a machine gun, fast cars and a lot of laughs.

It seems like something out of a movie, but it’s the story of Mr. Jack. And it’s one that only he can tell.

Richardson was born on Oct. 3, 1917 to Mr. and Mrs. L.L. Richardson.

“I was raised here my whole life,” Richardson said. “I went to Yazoo City Schools, all of them.”

He joined the Army in 1941 when he was in his early 20s. World War II was brewing, and the small town boy didn’t know what to expect.

“You never knew what was going to happen or where they would send you,” he said. “But you couldn’t wait to get back home and get turned loose.”

Richardson was a member of the 71st Coastal Artillery, anti-aircraft division. With the motto, “We come from all parts,” he joined the ranks of men from all over the country into a world of excitement, but also one of uncertainty.

His group was a mobile anti-aircraft regiment that was constantly on the move with convoys and maneuvers.

“You never knew where you were going next,” he said.

It was his first time out of the United States, and Richardson was on his way to Italy aboard a massive warship.

“You couldn’t be scared because there was nothing you could do about it,” he said. “It was too late to get scared at that point.”

Although Richardson said he was never involved with any combat, he had his moments of fear. 

“They told us that there are enemy submarines all over the place,” he said. “They wouldn’t let us burn anything because they said it would let them know where we were at in water.”

The men were usually confined under deck, where they could safely smoke their cigarettes without the fear of attracting enemy submarines.

“You couldn’t ride on the ship’s deck, couldn’t smoke, couldn’t do anything,” he added.

But one night Richardson and a few friends decided to take a stroll down the deck when they noticed something in the water.

“It looked like someone was shining a flashlight on you from the water,” Richardson said. “I jumped back, and started yelling, ‘it’s a sub. It’s a sub.’”

Richardson said it was almost like he took flight getting off the deck that evening. He even ran under deck, shouting the whole way.

“I kept screaming, ‘we’re gonna get it,’” he said, with a smile.

It was, in fact, not a submarine shining onto the ship that night. It turned out to be phosphorus from the water, casting reflections.

“Well, the boys got a laugh out of it,” he said, with a laugh.

During his time overseas, Richardson became accustomed to hiding out.

“Especially in places like Italy and France, they had what they called black-outs,” he said. “You couldn’t use lights, and you had to smoke in hideaways. You didn’t want to get spotted.”

Richardson remained in Europe for two years before returning home.

“They gave me a little vacation when I got home,” he said.

But it wasn’t long before he was back on duty for Uncle Sam.

“They were afraid of German aircraft coming over to the States,” he said. “They built these 40-foot towers with machine guns on them to fire at the Germans in case they did come over.”

Richardson was atop one of those towers in Washington D.C.

“We had a general pay us a visit, and everything was fine,” Richardson said. “But then he wanted to inspect our guns. One of them was loaded, and it fired off. Some shots ended up hitting the Lincoln Memorial.”

After spotting submarines and firing at national monuments, Richardson returned to Yazoo City.

Richardson and Dan Nicholas opened Danjack Chevrolet Inc. on Calhoun Avenue. When new car models arrived in town, cake and refreshments would be offered to visitors.

Richardson would even give his nieces and nephews plastic car toy replicas of the new arrivals.

Richardson also worked with the Yazoo Country Club for a number of years.

And when he wasn’t working, he might be found with his wife Mildred, aboard his boat on the Gulf Coast. Named Mimi after his wife, family members could fish the deep seas waters from the boat.

Richardson has slowed down through the years. He spends his much of his time now watching baseball or football. He might sneak in a few Pete Fountain clarinet tunes.

He still has that laugh that lingers, and the smile that seems contagious.

But what would you expect from a man who has a story as unique as that of a local legend.

“I guess that is about it,” he said, with a smile. “That’s about all to tell.”