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Interview with Paul D. Ashby [7/23/2002]

Larry Ordner:

This tape is made July 23rd, 2002, with Paul B. Ashby, A-s-h-b-y. Mr. Ashby resides in Rural Route 2, Box 382, in Princeton, Indiana. He is a native of Summerville in Gibson County, Indiana, served in the United States Army Airborne as a PFC from June 1946 through October 1947. He was part of the World War II occupational force that served in Japan immediately following the war. He's a winner of the parachutist and gliderman medals. This tape is made with Larry Warner, regional director for Senator Richard Ruger. Well, Paul, thank you for coming in and talking with me for this program. Appreciate your doing that. Tell me, you were -- you grew up in Gibson County, and where did you graduate from high school?

Paul D. Ashby:

Princeton High School.

Larry Ordner:

And what year was that?

Paul D. Ashby:

That would be 1946.

Larry Ordner:

1946. So the war had been over just really probably a few months.

Paul D. Ashby:

Yes, it had.

Larry Ordner:

And they were still drafting at that time.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. And I got out of high school and I thought, well, instead of being drafted later on, I might as well get it in.

Larry Ordner:

Um-hmm.

Paul D. Ashby:

So therefore --

Larry Ordner:

So you were roughly how old at that time?

Paul D. Ashby:

I was 18.

Larry Ordner:

18 years old and out of school and --

Paul D. Ashby:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

-- and decided to go in. Do you remember when -- well, what was the reaction at home when you decided to go in the military?

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, I tell you the truth, that we were -- a bunch of the guys were sitting around one time, and they -- in summertime. And at that point in time I weighed about 220 pounds, and I just got out of -- I was quite a butterball. And they were going to Indianapolis, a bunch of guys got together, we were going to enlist. So they assured me that probably due to my being overweight, I wouldn't be -- I would pass the -- I would fail the physical. So I thought, well, that was a good trip, I might as well go and have some fellowship with the guys. Well, the way it worked out, when we got to Indianapolis, some of the guys came home, and I went to Fort McClellan, Alabama. So they didn't care if I was a butterball or not. So I thought some of the guys didn't make it.

Larry Ordner:

Didn't make it.

Paul D. Ashby:

Who were a little bit leaner, didn't get in, for whatever reason.

Larry Ordner:

Right.

Paul D. Ashby:

But they knew how to take care of your weight in the army.

Larry Ordner:

So what did they do for you?

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, I went through the infantry basic at Fort McClellan, and when I got out of there, I weighed about 188 pounds.

Larry Ordner:

So you dropped considerable weight just going through basic training.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. And I felt good, and I was sort of proud of myself.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Paul D. Ashby:

And so therefore, I didn't think it was too bad. I -- and it was pretty easy. I was used to people telling me what to do, I've always been a good follower. And so --

Larry Ordner:

So how rigorous was it for you during that time to get your weight controlled?

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, in Alabama, in the June and July, _________, I'd say that the elements took care of the weight, just due to the fact that physical training and we had -- and the food, I -- and we had enough to eat, we had -- they fed us good, but something about their food that caused the skinny guys to gain weight, and the fat boys to lose weight. So ...

Larry Ordner:

That's good. And that was really probably a turning point for you, wasn't it?

Paul D. Ashby:

Yes, it was. I had been quite overweight for some time, and I felt proud of myself.

Larry Ordner:

Well, that's great. So let's see, then after, of course, the war was over, and I know that there had to be this whole national period of relief that people were feeling that the men were still going to keep the -- to keep the order that the war was already -- that the war brought about. So what was the nature of an occupational force at that time, that you can tell me?

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, I'll go -- I'll start from a little bit of everything.

Larry Ordner:

Go ahead.

Paul D. Ashby:

When we landed in Japan and -- we took a boat over to Japan, and we landed in Japan, and Tokyo Bay, and all through the train ride -- which Sendai is roughly 300 miles north of Tokyo, so we had to take a train there -- and I had never seen such devastation in all my life. The only thing that was standing was smoke stacks where -- on account of the bombing and the thing. And it just, it floored me how any place could be that destroyed. And that's what amazes me to this day, how they lift theirselves up by their boot straps and become what they had in that period of time.

Larry Ordner:

So you have very vivid memories of what that was like.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. It's rubble.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness.

Paul D. Ashby:

And so at that time, why, I had a chance to join the Airborne, so I joined the 11th Airborne and they shipped us to Sendai. And when we got to Sendai, they put us out on a, 1100 of us was out on a big, like a baseball field. And they was calling out our names. And, anyway, I set on that baseball diamond, I remember they kept calling names and I was waiting, I thought they forgot about me. And was listening for the names, and people would go to different trucks, different assignments. And guess who was the last name called.

Larry Ordner:

The man with the --

Paul D. Ashby:

Yes. And the sergeant that was calling out the names, he apologized to me, he said, I'm sorry. He said, I should have looked for you first. Paul D. Ashby. he said, You come with me, sir. We're just maybe a block away. And away I go. So I -- so I was -- luckily, I could type, and knew shorthand. So I got a job. My assignment was a personnel clerk in division rear. So eventually that's what I done all of the time. I know it sounds like, you're in the Airborne, it's rough and tough out there, but somebody had to punch a typewriter.

Larry Ordner:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Because you were in the Airborne. Now, did you have specialized training?

Paul D. Ashby:

Yes, we had to go through --

Larry Ordner:

Where was that conducted at?

Paul D. Ashby:

That was conducted at, I forgot the name of the place. It's about 30 miles north of Sendai, at an airfield.

Larry Ordner:

Did that last for a period of weeks, did you say?

Paul D. Ashby:

It lasted two -- two to three weeks, I think it was. My mind goes blank on that.

Larry Ordner:

Was that an assignment or did you have some option to get into that?

Paul D. Ashby:

You had to volunteer.

Larry Ordner:

Did you?

Paul D. Ashby:

Yeah, I had to volunteer, yes.

Larry Ordner:

What made it -- what was it about Airborne that intrigued you to go ahead and do that? Was there anything in particular?

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, the scuttlebutt was around Yokohama, where they -- where I signed up with, that they had a big shipment of people that they wanted to go to Korea. And I thought that was a good enough message to me that I'd rather stay in Japan and join the Airborne as to take a chance on going to Korea.

Larry Ordner:

And things were starting to happen in Korea at that time, I guess. Did you think that --

Paul D. Ashby:

No, I --

Larry Ordner:

I know the war had not really broken out, but I imagine that things were starting to shape up politically in Korea by that time.

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, we just heard that if you was in Korea, you was at the end of the world.

Larry Ordner:

Really. I'll be darned.

Paul D. Ashby:

So -- and the extra pay was attractive. And the macho was attractive, you know. You know how kids think. 18-year-old, they don't think too adult at that time. They -- being macho and things like this, and it's rather important to people, boys at that age. That's all. And basically I just stayed at Sendai, and I went through the -- then I went through glider school. I didn't have to go through glider school, but I thought, well, it's something to do, and --

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Now tell me, while we're talking about glider school, now what was the role of gliders in the Army at that time? Because you're the first person I've talked to that had any glider experience.

Paul D. Ashby:

Well --

Larry Ordner:

How were they used?

Paul D. Ashby:

They -- the gliders were just you slipped in the glider, and it's a thick thing that looks like a football goal, and a plane comes by with a hook and snatches you off the ground with a big nylon rope, which sounds -- which is really stretching that nylon. You do take off pretty fast. But -- and then when you -- they cut you loose, and you glide back down to the ground, which you don't do very much gliding, you more or less -- it's just a one-shot deal. The aviator of the glider, he just gets one chance, and you're setting there on wooden benches and you don't hear nothing. It's just a quiet, no motors, no nothing. You're just setting on wooden benches and --

Larry Ordner:

Did they have a defined purpose in the military at that time, do you think?

Paul D. Ashby:

Yeah, they would send glider troops in sometimes, but --

Larry Ordner:

How were they used, though? I guess what was their purpose in the military?

Paul D. Ashby:

Sending troops behind lines.

Larry Ordner:

Are they really?

Paul D. Ashby:

You glide in.

Larry Ordner:

So they could get in and their presence would never be heard either, I guess, right?

Paul D. Ashby:

No. Well, the plane's taking them. They could take -- but, in my opinion, they were death traps, you know. You know, especially in combat. They were so weakly constructed. You're talking about a tubular frame with canvas strips over it, that's it. And it's -- it's quite a -- and you learn how to tie all the different kind of knots in the world. Because you -- and they used them to -- maybe supplies would come in where you'd tie down loads inside the glider and things like that.

Larry Ordner:

When you were there as part of this occupational army in Japan, can you tell me really what was the -- how would you define what the Army's role was in Japan at that time? Because you were part of a huge occupational force. But how would you characterize what the Army's role was in Japan?

Paul D. Ashby:

I would say at the time I was there that the main thing was probably maybe a shore course or maybe -- and -- and they were setting up governments, different prefixes they called it, different type of governments, and we really didn't do any -- I didn't know of any of our outfit that went out -- done any guard duty, but I do know that some of the other outfits, they guarded different compounds and things like that. And even at that time we was -- they said there were quite a few Communists that was operating at that time, but they were little pittypods, they wanted to keep a cap on them; but I'd say our job was just a show of force, and I --

Larry Ordner:

Did you have any direct contact with the Japanese people during that time?

Paul D. Ashby:

Yes, I knew some interpreters. And they were at the division rear there, and I talked to some of them.

Larry Ordner:

And how did they -- how was the U.S. Army perceived at that time by the Japanese after the war?

Paul D. Ashby:

As -- I would suppose that they'd be perceived as -- you gotta remember, Japanese philosophy is different from our philosophy, at that time of day. They was completely subservient to the United States Army. I mean, you just -- when the emporer says you -- you obey the rules, you obey the rules, and they -- the Japanese, as far as I was concerned, they was just as down- trodden people at that time. And I thought they was very honest people and they -- they had a high degree of honor. And I didn't have a whole lot of contact with them, but I thought they were -- I think their sense of humor was not quite like ours because the interpreter asked me, he said, What do you think of Japan? I said, Well, I think there's too many foreigners, you know. And he looked at me strange.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Did the U.S. at that time, in the occupational role, did the U.S. actually do anything that was even some reconstruction projects of any type, like in working on sanitation systems and -- like help build roads and anything?

Paul D. Ashby:

I didn't know if they did or not, but I do know that probably, if I would say anything, probably the biggest star in MacArthur's crown was possibly, which is overlooked to this day, is probably his ability to set up a functioning government to get things -- to know how to set up government and how to get it working, how to divide it up and how to get the authorities to work together.

Larry Ordner:

And MacArthur was still the commanding officer at that time, as far as you remember?

Paul D. Ashby:

Yeah, he was -- he was right under the emperor.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness.

Paul D. Ashby:

I'd say how, you know, everybody snapped to when MacArthur was there. But I think he was brilliant in setting up the government and getting it to run.

Larry Ordner:

And that country was just in devastation. I mean, there was so much that had to be done, I'm sure.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. They was -- and, of course, one thing, the way you look at it, if you're in complete devastation, you can start from square one. Sometimes it's better to start from scratch than it is to try to fix up what you got. If the factories would have been left intact and things, they would have had the same problems as we would have had at steel mills in Gary because if the steel mills in Gary had been running or something, we could have just put state of the art steel mills up and we'd probably still been in business. And that's my opinion, for what it's worth.

Larry Ordner:

What was it about the Japanese character do you think that enabled them to really resurrect from ash to become what they are today? Did you sense anything in their character that, or their methods that --

Paul D. Ashby:

Yeah. They had teamwork. They had the team -- they had the teamwork down and they have a loyalty that's unquestionable. And also they don't have to deal with a multicultural society like we do. They have one culture. People that drink a lot and act a lot. And we don't have that. They don't have the problems we do. They have -- and they can do that because they all think alike and they can get a whole lot more done than, I think, than our society can, in a way. And it's a closed society, I would think that it's pretty well closed. We see that in the Japanese companies, how they operate and work, that they have a team concept. People don't act alone, that they act in a, like a committee when they do things.

Larry Ordner:

For the unit that you were -- the Air- borne unit that you were involved in, did they have any serious problems during that time that they were called up for or --

Paul D. Ashby:

No.

Larry Ordner:

So what --

Paul D. Ashby:

No problems.

Larry Ordner:

But they were there just in case primarily.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. They was just there. They had different regiments stationed up and down Hokkaido, and they had one even at Sapporo.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me about your role now in personnel. Now, what kind of an officer or what rank did you report to, and what -- kind of describe what your typical duties were like there.

Paul D. Ashby:

I took care of the, all the personnel -- I was personnel clerk for the people that worked in the office that I did, and I took care of the personnel papers of the people that were the cadre at the jump school. And I was on detached service. That would mean that I was assigned at another place and I worked here, although I was assigned to another. So, therefore, which was sort of -- it didn't do me right. But -- not that I got any regrets, but I -- everybody else was sergeants but me, and really since de- -- I was on detached service and my outfit was 150 miles off, why, they wasn't going to promote me because they would promote the people that was at hand. But since I was assigned to them, why, there was nothing I could do. Although --

Larry Ordner:

Do you think your age maybe spoke against you too?

Paul D. Ashby:

No, but I had a lot of opportunities. I'd have to say that if I had stayed in, and I was offered a chance for a -- to go up to be a warrant officer, I was offered a chance to -- and that was a pretty good chance at being -- taking care of the PX and things like this, and I was offered it, but the only catch was to re-up five years. So -- which, now I'd say that it should be that way. And I was offered a lot of opportunities when my enlistment came to an end.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. When you were there in Japan, can you think of a, just a couple of things that come to mind more readily that are more, some of the more significant things that occurred while you were there, that you remember?

Paul D. Ashby:

I remember probably the first side was the big bombed out ship in Tokyo Bay. That was my first impression, that how a huge ship like this, it never got off the drawing board, hardly. And I would say that -- how the people in the -- they all lived in the little villages, little hamlets. They didn't use the good ground to live on, they lived in places where they couldn't farm and they all went out to the fields every morning with their oxen and things like this. They saved -- they saved the land, the good land to farm with. And that's always impressed me, that some day we might look at that, because a lot of people -- we're taking up a lot of good farms around here due to different things. But, yeah, that impressed me. And Japan is, it's a beautiful country, actually, and I was fortunate enough to -- I got a lot of three-day passes and three-day leaves where -- due to where I worked. I seen a lot of it. I've seen islands, I seen things that at the time I dismissed as being really neat, but I look back at it and say, hey, that made some good memories.

Larry Ordner:

I bet it did. I bet it did. And that was at a time when you probably had not experienced any other culture in your life in terms of just what you grew up in.

Paul D. Ashby:

I just came off of a farm in Indiana out of high school, and I -- actually, that's the first place I've ever been.

Larry Ordner:

Wow.

Paul D. Ashby:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

And you connected so much with those who had fought the war, hadn't you?

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. And I -- yeah.

Larry Ordner:

But, you know, when you think of it this way, though, growing up when you did and being 18 immediately after the war had ended, but still back in Gibson County, everyone lived the war, didn't they?

Paul D. Ashby:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

People in this area were still involved in manufacturing products for the government for the war effort. A lot of people piling into Evansville in the shipyard and other manufacturing, I would think.

Paul D. Ashby:

Things were changing over. They were -- they were changing over. And our -- we were on a farm. I was impressed by some of the products they raised and how they treated the land and how they respected the land, and I picked up on things that a lot of the people wouldn't on how they done things.

Larry Ordner:

Well, you were in Japan from June 194 -- well, roughly '46 to '47 compared to some service, of course, a relatively short period of time.

Paul D. Ashby:

Um-hmm.

Larry Ordner:

But so did you anticipate that you were going to be discharged, or was this kind of a preset period of time that you were going to be serving at that time, do you remember?

Paul D. Ashby:

I was -- I signed up for so long time -- but I was -- I tossed it back and forth. And I -- I just almost reenlisted. I mean, I was tossed a lot of -- they dangled the apple in front of me a long time.

Larry Ordner:

And you were very tempted to do it.

Paul D. Ashby:

And I was tempted. And I thought -- you know, and I -- I had to really think that over for a long time. And -- and I almost -- I almost did, but I just couldn't quite --

Larry Ordner:

Uh-huh.

Paul D. Ashby:

I wanted to get back to Indiana. So I ...

Larry Ordner:

So you decided to not reenlist.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

So what was it like coming home for you? Because you were still a very young man when you got home.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right. Well, it was uneventful to me. And I never got seasick or anything like that or anything. And -- well, I -- I figured I was happy to get home.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Paul D. Ashby:

But --

Larry Ordner:

When you got home, did you use your GI benefits in any way?

Paul D. Ashby:

No, I didn't. I didn't use them. I got a job relatively easy and I -- I've never had any problems for getting a job. It seems like it's always good fortune seemed like it followed me. Maybe I'm not too skilled in a lot of things, but I been lucky, so -- and I've always -- but I've always -- I'm always proud that I served, and I was especially proud that I served when the Korean War came along.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me me about your thoughts about that.

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, I was glad that I had already been in because I would have been drafted for sure.

Larry Ordner:

And if you had been reenlisted, you probably would have been assigned there, I guess.

Paul D. Ashby:

I would have thought, yes. And I thought, well, I was really lucky. For one thing, I wanted to get my military obligation in. You know, a lot of young guys thought that -- we felt, well, you're going to have to be drafted, you know, you're -- you might as well get your obligation in and -- early. And I still think it was a good thing for all young men probably if they don't -- don't have a good firm mindset to go to the military, then that will give you a mindset on what you want to do, what paths you want to take in your life.

Larry Ordner:

Well, the time you served was still a very significant time when you think that the war had just ended and you were a part of that occupational force.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

And certainly right on the edge of the Korean conflict.

Paul D. Ashby:

Right in between.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Exactly in between.

Paul D. Ashby:

And -- yes, I ... that's been a long time ago.

Larry Ordner:

It sure has. But I know you're very proud of your service.

Paul D. Ashby:

Well, I guess if -- my brothers both were in. They were in. I had an older brother, he was at Pearl Harbor.

Larry Ordner:

Really.

Paul D. Ashby:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness.

Paul D. Ashby:

And the other one was in the Navy and was on the aircraft carrier. And it wasn't -- with us, it wasn't something to do, it was the thing to do. And I think probably today that you wouldn't want to go back over it, but you feel proud you were in it.

Larry Ordner:

That's right. Well, thanks so much for coming in today and talking. I really enjoyed meeting you.

Paul D. Ashby:

Sure.

[Conclusion of Interview]

 
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