by Jud Ashmore
Got a call recently from an LCI veteran from Texas, Jud Ashmore. I was excited because we are always looking for good stories and Texans have a well-earned reputation as storytellers.
After serving aboard LCI 476 in WW II Jud later joined the Air Force as a meteorologist. After retiring from the USAF as a LtCol he became a TV Weatherman in San Antonio, TX. He was billed as, “When you’re ready for weather, you’re ready for Jud Ashmore.” He also authored a book, “Texas Weather.”
As we talked, I asked Jud to jot down and send me some of his LCI memories. The following covers some of his early LCI service. He has promised more. I have friends in Texas and I know that a Texan always has another story.
In July or August of 1943, our crew was picked up from the receiving station, Pier 93, New York City, loaded in an open bed stake back truck and taken to Barber, NJ to board a new ship, the LCI(L) 476.
I recall the Motor Machinists reading a pamphlet on how to start the engines. Not a man had ever been to sea. A Lt. Jg and his assistant came aboard and read something about rocks and shoals; we all saluted as the commissioning pennant was hoisted. The ceremony took all of five minutes. About 4 PM that same day we were underway headed for Pier 42 just across the harbor. It was drive time traffic and the ferries were in full swing. A sea of red lights and horns told us that we obviously were not following the “rules of the road.” Two hours later we were wedged between Pier 42 and Pier 43 looking for help.
For the next two weeks we were made to leave the ship at 8 AM and return at 4 PM. During that time the workers came aboard with welding torches and other machinery installing guns for duty in the Pacific. The subway was 5 cents and I lived in the Times Square USO all day and aboard the ship at night.
Somehow, we made our way through the open ocean to our destination of Key West, FL. The navigator, an ensign, was always lost so we were seldom out of sight of land. The next step was the Panama Canal and we arrived on Christmas Eve. My Watch got liberty so me made it to the first bar. We decided to bring some back, knowing it was strictly forbidden. A half-pint would fit inside the uniform collar, just a little slit, and drop the bottle in. Another half-pint would go in the back of your pants.
Back at the gate, the Marine guard waved us through, so far so good. But then two more guards with clubs whacked us from behind, once on the collar and once on the butt and sent us on our way. You don’t know how difficult it is to walk with whiskey and broken glass in your shorts.
I later volunteered to go to sea divers school in Key West and another in San Diego. Never got into the full suit; just a mask, helmet, breast plate, weight belt and lead shoes.
Five or six LCI’s left San Diego, destination Pearl Harbor. Two made it under their own power. One was towed the last two days, and two were lost but arrived later. We took ammunition aboard at Ford Island – next stop Kwajalein Island in the Marshalls.
At Kwajalein we lay at anchor for two or three weeks and finally got orders to Tarawa. The island had been captured two or three weeks earlier. Getting ready to leave we tried to haul up the anchor but it wouldn’t budge; obviously fouled on something. Now I found out why I was sent to divers school.
As I put on my diving gear I noticed that sharks were plentiful and playful in the harbor. Then I started down the greasy anchor cable. Two men with a wobble pump gave me air. I carried a rope to signal; one pull, give me some slack; two to hold; and three to bring me up. Going down it kept getting darker and darker but I could see our anchor fouled in a sunken Japanese ship. I could not free the anchor and would need some tools. Not sure of the depth but breathing was difficult. I knew we had a spare anchor but could not cut the cable. I surfaced and got the tools needed to free the anchor and went back down.
As a kid I had seen movie serials on Saturday afternoon where a diver went down and just as an octopus was about to grab him, it would end until the next chapter next week. I knew there was an octopus down there that had been waiting for me for several years, or a hungry shark that wanted an afternoon snack. To say I was scared is an understatement, but not going down was not an option. I finally freed the anchor and we were on our way.
The loyalty and trust of the crew and the close-knit friendship it created lives with me to this day. I remember only the good.