Richard Lee Headley, the last survivor of the Omaha “Sweet 16” members of a World War II military unit, has died.
The 16 Omaha African-Americans, who called themselves the Sweet 16, served in the same WWII supply company, the 530 Quartermaster Battalion. The unit kept the Fifth and Eighth Armies stocked with food, fuel and ammo as Allied troops marched through North Africa and Italy and into Germany. The Sweet 16 also guarded German prisoners of war.
All 16 survived and returned to Omaha.
Headley died Nov. 3 at Florence Home Healthcare Center from complications after breaking each hip in separate falls a month apart, said daughter Deborah Taylor of Omaha. He was 90.
Headley, who was born and reared in Omaha, graduated from Omaha South High School. After the war, he worked for Asarco Co. smelter for 37 years, many of them as a crane operator. Headley retired from Asarco in 1984, nine years after his wife, Delthea, died.
Headley learned at a young age to be polite and responsible, said another daughter, Leslie McAuley of Omaha. His early training never left: He always took his hat off when entering a building, held the door for women and never used coarse language, the daughters said.
“He still made sure he took care of the ladies around him” at the Florence Home, McAuley said. He escorted them to meals and told them jokes.
“I never knew him to have anything bad to say about anyone,” she said. “We were blessed to have him in our lives.”
Headley bowled in his leisure time. He rolled a 300 in 2005 and, at the time, carried a 193 average in his senior men's league. .
In a 2005 interview with The World-Herald, Headley spoke of serving in WWII: “We used to sit on boxes of live ammunition and bombs to play cards. Lord, we were young. It's amazing we all survived.”
The last time all of the Sweet 16 were together was for a 1993 reunion.
Besides Headley's daughters, other survivors include their mother, Alice Taylor; two granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.
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