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FRED ASH

December 17th, 2004


a thumbnail image of Master Sergeant Fred Ash Master Sergeant Fred Ash Master Sergeant Fred Ash was born on a Mississippi farm. He joined the Marine Corps in 1945 and made it his career. During World War II, Ash served with occupation forces in Saipan and Guam. In the Korean War he fought in both the Inchon and Chosin Reservoir campaigns and also served in Vietnam. He retired to live in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where he died in March, 2005.


INTERVIEWER: Mr. Ash, the tape is rolling now. And, as I said, this is for this Montford Point project for what we hope will be a major documentary. And, um, we gotta be, uh, putting this together pretty quickly so, uh, and also as I told you, you'll get a copy of this interview. So what I'd like you to do just to, for, uh, purposes of reference and to get us started with, I'd like you to just give us your name, give us your full name and today's date, which is December the 17th so, 2004. So would you please give us that?

FRED ASH: My name is Fred Ash and, uh, today's date is, uh, 12-17, 2004.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. So you've given us the date in military terms from, uh, for 12-17, okay. And, uh, I'd like you, if you would, just tell us a bit about your background before you joined the Marines, a little bit about where you from, where you grew up, a little bit about what your family was like, uh, did you have brothers and sisters, what did your mother and father do, that kind of thing. And then a little bit about what level of education you'd obtained before you, uh, joined the Marines. Uh, did you finish high school, uh, if, if you finished high school, did you go beyond that. So just tell us a little bit about that.

FRED ASH: I was born in Mississippi, a little town called Delisle. It's a French town. D-E-L-I-S-L-E, Mississippi. And, uh, I was born with, uh, mother naturally and a father, and, uh, my whole family lived mostly with my grandmother, my mother's mother. We were very, very, uh, poor actually, but we were sort of wealthy, because we had livestock they call oxen. And at the edge of 12 or 13, I think I was, uh, what I would say a professional ox driver. My, my parents had two yokes of oxen. Oxens (SIC) was, was, uh, powerful (STAMMERS) animals, more so than, uh, mules and horses. And, uh, we'd use them for plowing.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) We'd use them for, uh, uh, cleaning up, uh, new ground and whatever else that was necessary that they needed heavy equipment, like, uh, they don't have, uh, didn't have during that time, but they do have today. We use our oxens (SIC) to do that. And, uh, salaries was very low. For ox, uh, yoke of oxens (SIC) and a driver, the salary was only about $2.00, $2.50 a day.

INTERVIEWER: How about your educational background?

FRED ASH: Um, education was a little bit slim. During the time I was going to school, we only had the little rural school, one, yeah, one-room school. We only had about three months of schooling. And then they kept on raising it, raising it. They raised it up to, uh, uh, six months, and I ended up, before I came in, in the Marine Corps, I dropped out in about the eighth grade, but after I got in the Marine Corps, I, I finished my education. I went on to, uh, complete the, uh, 12th grade.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Uh, I want you to tell me a couple things about joining the Marines. I want you to tell me when you joined, and I want you to tell me why you joined. What, just when, what year, just what year you joined the Marine Corps and, and then tell me a little bit about why you decided to join, or were you drafted, or what were the circumstances that you went into the Marine Corps? Just tell (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

FRED ASH: (LAUGH) It's sort of a, a complicated story, but I don't know whether we'd have time to go into it all or not. But, uh, actually I, uh, started in the Marine Corps in 1945, but I was too young. So, uh, and I, um, stayed in the, uh, um, what they called Zero Platoon, 'cause they was, they was, uh, about to, uh, send me back home, and I didn't wanna go back home. I wanted to stay and become a Marine, but, uh, actually the way I started off I, I, uh, was working at the, uh, Gulfport Naval Base. And I got in, into it with a foreman, and I, what he claimed I disobeyed him. So he told me, I had already put my age up in order to get a job. See, I was, uh, I was only 16 years old, and you're supposed to be 17 in order to, uh, work out there.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) So, um, uh, he, uh, asked me how old I was and, and, and instead of giving him my right age, I told him I was 17 going on 18, he said when you make, uh, 18, so I gave him a, a, a date. Anyway it wasn't right, but, uh, he, uh, he said, well, I tell you what, if you don't go back to work where I instruct you to go back to work, I'll have you, uh, drafted into the military. And that was really the way that it started out that I got in the Marine Corps. I was called up at the age of 17, which the age for, uh, being drafted was 18, and when I got, uh, uh, to Camp Shelby, instead of me coming back like the rest of my comrades did, they picked me out of a group and sent me on to, uh, um, Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. I want you to tell me a little bit about that trip to Montford Point, um, what you remember about that trip. Obviously you were moving in a segregated society. You were coming from the South to a point in the South so you knew all about segregation and how segregation worked, uh, but just tell me, uh, a little bit about that trip, uh, and I, I, I'm assuming you went by train from, uh, uh Mississippi or Alabama. Uh, tell me a little bit about going to Montford Point.

FRED ASH: I, um, after I got signed up, I, I caught a bus from Gulfport to Jackson. And then after I got in Jackson I, uh, got a train ticket to come to, uh, uh, Wilmington. But they routed me from, uh, Jackson to, uh, Atlanta and then from, uh, Atlanta to, uh, uh, Wilmington. I just remember how long the whole trip taken, but anyway it was quite a few hours. And, um, when I got to Wilmington, then they put us on a bus and from Wilmington, from a train station, we rode into Jacksonville and from Jacksonville into, uh, uh, Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, when you got there, I want you to tell me a little bit about your first day at Montford Point, how you felt, what it was like for you and then tell me a little bit about, uh, your training experiences there, how you felt about that. What do you recall about that first day that you were there at Montford Point?

FRED ASH: I was with, um, about five or six other guys was from, uh (STAMMERS) I think, one was from Louisiana and a couple, three of them are from Texas and one was from, uh, Alabama. Anyway, the, the other guy from, from Mississippi, he had already been in the Marine Corps. I think he had came in the Marine Corps around, uh, '42, when, when, uh, uh, Blacks first entered in, in the Marine Corps, and he had gotten out. But he went back home and, like most of us, there wasn't no jobs to be had so he came back in, and he was listening to all the stories that, that we were passing around to, to each other, and he said, well, it's gonna be a little bit different from what you all think it is.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) So, uh, when we got in to Montford Point they came and, uh, uh, a Marine guard came in, on the bus, and he was giving orders and asking names and so forth and so on. And to us everything was funny, so he ordered us to stop laughing. And, uh, it was sort of a hard thing to do, 'cause, you know, I had never (CLEARS THROAT) really had no one to, uh, uh, order me around or talk to me like that nowhere, you know, nothing, unless I said something back to them. So anyway when we got inside the building he, he came up again and was talking to us, and he asked us certain things, like where we were from and, and, uh, uh, how old we were and, and, and why did we come in the Marine Corps and all this, uh, uh, sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) .

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) Anyway, um, I was, uh, somewhat of a, a wise bird, you know, and I kept on wising off to the guy, and, uh, it, it sort of, uh, made him mad. So he told me to, uh, turn around and face the wall. We were standing in the hallway, about 10 or 15 of us, so he told me to face the wall, told me to get up close to the wall. So I was still laughing, you know, the next thing I know he had bumped my head up against the, the concrete wall and right away I had a, a hickey, and I hadn't been at Montford Point 45 minutes. But that stopped the laughing.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, I assume the experiences got a little better after that, but now, now tell me a little bit about, uh, um, I know this, but the audience doesn't know this so I want you to (STAMMERS) answer in a way that lets the audience know this. And, and, and again, just don't just say yes. Kind of repeat the question. When you arrived, all of the drill instructors and all of the non-commissioned officers there were African American is, and, and, and just if that's the case, just tell the audience that, and if the officers were still White, tell the audience that.

FRED ASH: There was (CLEARS THROAT) the, the rated ones was, um, was White, like, uh, sergeants and corporals, but the PFCs and privates was, was Black. And mostly what went on was they, the Whites would get one order and then one of these Afro-Americans would hear this so he'd come right behind the White NCO and jump on you for the same thing. So actually you, whatever he was chewing you out about, you got two chewing out, because the, um, the Afro-American would, would copy behind him and do the same thing.

INTERVIEWER: Now, did you have a, did you have an African American drill sergeant?

FRED ASH: Yes, after a while, right. (TECHNICAL)

FRED ASH: Yeah. My, uh, uh, Afro-American, uh, drill sergeant was, he was a PFC. Uh, he was, um, Vanby (SP?) Dixon (SP?) from Louisiana, big, tall, (STAMMERS) heavyset, about 6'7", weighed about 200 and some pounds, but he didn't, didn't look like he had an ounce of fat on him. He was well built.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say you were train, tell, how would you describe your training in boot camp? Just describe it for me.

FRED ASH: Uh, the training was, it was, um, a lot of walking, drilling, running and more or less, uh, uh, discipline. Like everybody that you, uh, came in, uh, contact with you had to salute them, uh, or if not, you, you'd get yourself in trouble. And when you were going, say, say for instance, if you was going to the company street, if you got the instructions to fall out and, and, uh, you were going out (STAMMERS) company street so, um, a Marine with an emblem on already, that indicated that he had already been through boot camp, see, and he was a full-fledged Marine. So you had to stop and salute him as you was going to, to fall in. And what else, it's, and when you fell in, you fell in at attention until you got orders to, uh, uh, stand at ease or rest or what have you.

INTERVIEWER: Well, did you get and let, and again, you need to repeat the question, but did you get training in things like hand-to-hand combat or, uh, firing a rifle on rifle range? Or tell me what kind of training you got and, and again, tell me what you got.

FRED ASH: Well, first of all we started off with, uh, learning close order drill and from that we would, um, got training on hand-to-hand combat, but we didn't, we didn't have no, uh, firing pin in our, in our rifles. And we didn't have bayonets either. We had, uh, was fake bayonets that they had given us. So if anybody got too close to, uh, his opponent, well they, they wouldn't get, uh, badly or seriously injured. And we had running, running period. We had, uh, uh, so many laps around the, uh, parade ground every morning right after role call. And what else?

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

FRED ASH: I can't remember now.

INTERVIEWER: Well, let's, let's...

FRED ASH: (OVERLAPPING) Right offhand.

INTERVIEWER: ...leave that. That's, that's a pretty good description. Let me, let me ask you now after, after training, after you're out of boot and you're stationed somewhere, I want, I want you to talk a little bit about what happened when you left, uh, Montford Point and you went in on liberty for whatever reason, if you went to towns like Wilmington or Jacksonville or elsewhere. I want you to tell me what that was like, and I, I want you to particular tell me if there were racial instance in which you felt animosity from Whites in those towns, if you, if that occurred with you, or I want you to tell me if you, as a southern born African American simply understood the system and made sure you behaved in such a way as to not, uh, have any trouble, uh, brought down on you. So I think you understand the gist of the question.

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So just, just tell me what it felt like to be on liberty in Jacksonville or on liberty in Wilmington or New Bern, wherever you went, um, and, and what you remember if, if there were an problems, if there weren't any problems, why they weren't any problems.

FRED ASH: Well...

INTERVIEWER: And start with, you know, I went on liberty at such and such towns.

FRED ASH: My, my first liberty after I got out of boot camp was in Jacksonville, and what I noticed that I, I really didn't go for too much, but that's the way things were, that, uh, at the bus station you'd leave, uh, the camp or either you ride, uh, a bus to the bus station, and the bus station was divided. You had a section for, for Blacks and you had a section for Whites. And, uh, if you was going to the base you could get on a bus that you sit anywhere you wanted on the bus, but if you was going, say, like, uh, to Wilmington, uh, Kinston or New Bern, you got your tickets and you went to the back of the bus, even if you was in, in a, a uniform.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) And downtown Jacksonville, there was a, a divided line there right where the, uh, train station is. They had MPs that would constantly patrol that area, and they would keep the Whites on the upper side of the tracks, and they would direct the Blacks across the track.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about what Jacksonville looked like in 1946? What do you remember about Jacksonville? What, and particularly on, on the African American side of the tracks, what do you remember?

FRED ASH: Up until you got to the, uh, railroad tracks the streets was paved brick or what have you, but then after you passed that, it was all dirt. And, uh, the, uh, patrolmen, the MPs, they had, uh, both White and Black MPs, but, uh, most of the time the, the Blacks would be walking, 'cause they was from right outside of, uh, of Montford Point and, uh, the Whites would be riding. They'd be, they either ride with the policemen or they either, they would ride in, in the, uh, government vehicles. And for a long time most of the, uh, Afro-American, uh, uh, MPs was non-rated and then they began to get a few corporals, and I think they had one sergeant, but mostly he was, uh, uh, in charge of the, the rest of the, the, uh, uh, Afro-Americans.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) And they were strict on, uh, uh, uniform. The least little, uh, uh, saw a uniform that you had like, say for instance, uh, the streets was not paved, and if your shoes was dusty, they'd have a patrol truck to send you back to the base and then you would be handled from, from your organization. And, um, we were, after we got out of boot camp, we went to an organization at Montford Point called, uh, uh, H and S Company, and H and S Company was, uh, where you did guard duty and whatever else that they had to do and also at, at that time, we really wasn't allowed over at main side. Main side was, uh, uh, well, a section for, for mostly Whites.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) The only time I remember that, 'cause I went one time. And where you go over to main side you'd be on a trash run. They had these 55-gallon, uh, uh, drums that you'd, you'd make about three or four, uh, uh, run trips a day and every section wherever they had them at and empty them in a dump truck. And, um, you even didn't, didn't eat over there. When, uh, you would, uh, take a break for lunch, you'd come back to Montford Point and then the guy that was driving, he'd go back to the, uh, uh, motor pool and then when it was time to pick you up, he'd come back and pick you up and you'd go back on another run for the, for the rest of the day.

INTERVIEWER: Let's make this really clear. Um, what you're saying is, if I'm understanding you, is that even when you were assigned to Main Side or Camp Lejeune, you could not eat in the facilities there, and you were taken back to Montford Point to eat?

FRED ASH: Right. Right.

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So how about telling me again. Tell, tell me exactly that, that even when you were assigned duty on, and just go ahead and say that. I want you, I wanna make this clear. I want the audience to clearly understand what you're saying. Um, so I want you to phrase it pretty much like I phrased it. That is when you were on these assignments...

FRED ASH: Right.

INTERVIEWER: ...anytime when you were assigned...

FRED ASH: Right.

INTERVIEWER: ...to Camp Lejeune...

FRED ASH: Right.

INTERVIEWER: ...for whatever duties, you could not eat there. You had to come back to Montford Point to eat and then be, and then go back over; is that correct?

FRED ASH: Right.

INTERVIEWER: Well, let, let's...

FRED ASH: (STAMMERS) And the only (STAMMERS) ...

INTERVIEWER: Well, I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I want you to say that right now while we're on it. I want you to tell me that.

FRED ASH: Okay. When we'd be on these assignments and, uh, actually it was a, a cleanup or garbage runs and whatever other (CLEARS THROAT) uh, we'd ever go over there, uh, some of them was. I never did go, but we even go and, and, uh, cut grass with (STAMMERS) swing blades, and, um, while we were over there, we'd always knock off in time enough to get back to our camp or, or to Montford Point to get our lunch or dinner, whatever it was. And they would tell us or told us that we would have to eat, we couldn't eat over at Main Side or in the mess halls over there, because we had to eat where they drew, uh, our rations at. That's what they told us. But to me it, it, it didn't make sense and, and it, it, it, uh, it just ring a bell with me, no way, but, um...

INTERVIEWER: How did you feel about that?

FRED ASH: Well, I was so rejoiced over being a Marine it, it didn't matter too much. And then I would, I would rather, 'cause, uh, when you, if you would go over there, they'd, they'd look at you like, uh, like you were something from outer space anyway. And then there'd be times that we'd go in certain areas. You, you probably wouldn't see the guy, but you could hear him, and they give us the name, uh, uh, not us but the Camp Johnson, I mean, Camp Montford Point, Monkey Point, and they would...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Who called, uh, Montford Point Monkey Point?

FRED ASH: Well, some of the Whites.

INTERVIEWER: Some of the Whites?

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: What kind, were, were some of the White Marines?

FRED ASH: Yeah, oh, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Well, then would you please say that?

FRED ASH: Yeah, yeah, the, they were definitely, uh, uh, White Marines.

INTERVIEWER: And okay. Um, so let's get you off of Montford Point. Now, you've served, you've gone through boot camp, you've been stationed there a while. Where did you go after leaving Montford Point?

FRED ASH: Um, I was supposed to, after I got transferred, was supposed to have went on a, on a 20, 25-day leave home, but I didn't. They put me in a draft and sent me straight overseas. I didn't get back to see my people until three, three years and three months after.

INTERVIEWER: So where, what, what, where were you?

FRED ASH: I went to, um, went to Saipan, stayed there and then...

INTERVIEWER: What, what kind of unit? Tell me what kind of unit you were in.

FRED ASH: It was, uh, well, we did security, 'cause we had, uh, Japanese prisoners, and we was guarding the prisoners, plus we was actually building the camp. We really didn't have a camp. And we had, uh, uh, work details of, of blowing up, uh, uh, mines and marked mines that, and then some of them we had to, uh, search and find and look for them ourselves, but we had, uh, uh, demolition people that, you know, would help us, and we knew what to look for. So we'd, uh, uh, seek them out, blow them up and we had a, a, a lot of, uh, anti-aircraft weapons. We used, uh, didn't have nothing else to do we'd polish them up.

INTERVIEWER: After you left Saipan, where did you go?

FRED ASH: Um, I got transferred to Guam, and they had two camps over there at, uh, at, uh, uh, Guam. They had the Old 49th, uh, Depot area where we went to 5th Service Depot, 5th Service Depot was the main camp and this is where the, um, the, uh, uh, Whites stayed at. And then we, uh, was, was, uh, stationed at, uh, Old 49th, uh, Depot area and then the rest of them went to, uh, was, uh, uh, on the, up on top of the, uh, I can't even think of the name of it now, but anyway, it was about five miles south from, from where the main camp was called 8th Ammo, and, uh, this was a, a big ammunition dump. And, and they were stationed in, in that dump that where they, they hauled, uh, ammunition and put them on barges, put the ammunition of barges and from what I understand or understood, they, they, uh, dumped it out in the ocean.

INTERVIEWER: Um, were you ever stationed in Japan, in the home islands of Japan?

FRED ASH: Uh, no, no more than transfer.

INTERVIEWER: When did you get out of the service?

FRED ASH: I retired out of the service in, in 1966.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. So you spent a career in the service. Let's skip...

FRED ASH: (OVERLAPPING) Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: ...forward a little bit. Were you in Korea?

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I want you to tell me a little bit about, um, two things. I want you to tell me when you first went in to an integrated unit, what year it was. Was it, was it in Korea? Was it before you went to Korea. Tell, tell us, tell the audience when you first went in to an integrated unit, under what circumstances.

FRED ASH: I, uh, went to Korea from Earl, New Jersey.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, were you in (STAMMERS) if you were in a segregated unit in Earl, tell, tell the audience.

FRED ASH: No, uh, uh, this was, it was a segregated unit, 'cause, uh, all the, uh, uh, NCOs, except for the officers was, uh, uh, Afro-Americans. The only, only Whites we had was officers and, uh, yeah, all officers and Navy personnel. And, uh, when I got transferred from there, I went to, uh, to, to division in California, and then from there overseas. And...

INTERVIEWER: When you went to that division, was that an integrated division?

FRED ASH: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Well, you, I want you to tell...

FRED ASH: (OVERLAPPING) It, it...

INTERVIEWER: ...the audience that. When I, when you went to California from Earl, New Jersey, tell the audience, when you went from Earl, New Jersey to California you were assigned to this division that that's when you were assigned to an integrated unit. Can you tell the audience that?

FRED ASH: Um, we, we was at, uh, Tent Camp 2, and, um, we all slept, uh, so many to a tent, and they was, uh, all integrated. And they also when we would fall out for, uh, um, role call or, or go to eight, we were integrated.

INTERVIEWER: And where was this?

FRED ASH: This was in California.

INTERVIEWER: And you went to, and then tell where you went from California.

FRED ASH: And, um, they organized us in, in different units. So I left California in, um, uh, 3rd Platoon, George Company, um, 7th Marines, but I was in a platoon that they took us and, and put us on an ammunition ship. And this was a, a, a (STAMMERS) ammunition supply ship for the whole division. Well, the, uh, the, uh, 5th and 6th Marines is the one that made the Inchon landing and, uh, we had to, uh, go ahead of, of, uh, my organization, 'cause I was in the 7th Marines and, and this was the, uh, 5th and 6th, uh, Marine Brigade that made the, uh, Inchon landing. And, uh, we had, uh, well, a gung-ho, uh, lieutenant that claimed he was gonna have us win him a Congressional Medal Of Honor.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) So he volunteered us to go in on the landing at Inchon, at which I wasn't supposed to, and we went in on the, about the 26th or the 27th wave of the Inchon landing and joined the, uh, 5th and 6th Marine Brigade.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like when you made that landing?

FRED ASH: Well, you could, uh, still smell charcoal from, uh, burnt buildings and all kind of other odors. And everything was all ransacked and tore up. And there were, uh, um, snipers firing at us, but that didn't hinder us any. We kept walking. And of course, we couldn't fire back, 'cause we didn't see nobody to fire at, you know, they was hid. So, then we went on and, uh, at this time they had already done, uh, surrounded Seoul and, uh, we joined in. We filled, uh, uh, filled in on the lines that where they surrounded Seoul at. And when they finally, the, the, the final time that they went through Seoul, they claimed that they walked through it in 45, 30 to 45 minutes, but they didn't say anything about they had been, uh, um, dug in around it, had it surrounded for about three, three to five weeks, because they had tore all the buildings down and bombed it 24 hours a day. The, uh, USS Missouri had, had bombed it 24 hours a day and burned everything down, and when they went through it the last time, they just walked through.

INTERVIEWER: Did you go into Seoul?

FRED ASH: Yeah, I went through it.

INTERVIEWER: You went through...

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me what town you went through.

FRED ASH: I, I really don't know. You, you...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) No, I mean, you said you went through Seoul, so tell me you went through Seoul. So you said, yeah, I went through it, but the audience...

FRED ASH: Oh, okay. Yes, uh, uh, I (STAMMERS) went through Seoul with the, with the, uh, with the 5th Marines, the 5th Marine Brigade, 'cause they was the ones that, that made the, the original, uh, uh, landing and capture of Seoul. And, uh, when, when we, uh, walked through it and they claimed it, well, who was uh, Eisenhower or MacArthur once said that we had walked through it within 30 to 40 minutes, but he didn't say anything about it was, it was burned down. It wasn't nothing but ashes. We had to be particular to keep from stepping in a, a hole that had been bombed and, and, uh, was on fire.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, when, after you got through Seoul, did you go up, uh, around the, the Yalu. Did you go as far as Chosin Reservoir? Were you involved in the Chosin Reservoir?

FRED ASH: (OVERLAPPING) I was in the Chosin Reservoir from the beginning to the end.

INTERVIEWER: You wanna tell me a little bit about that or and you, don't say any more than you wanna say, but, uh, I, if you can, give the audience some concept of how cold it was. Can you give the audience some concept of how fast the (STAMMERS) were you cut off?

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Can you give the audience some concept of how fast the Chinese came through? And can you give the audience some concept from your experiences being cut off? In other words, let, most of this audience knows nothing about Chosin. Believe me, people don't know a thing about the Korean War. So, if you just say a little bit about the Chosin campaign, just... (TECHNICAL)

FRED ASH: Um (CLEARS THROAT) ...

INTERVIEWER: But do start out, I was in the Chosin campaign.

FRED ASH: Yeah, I was in the Chosin Reservoir, uh, uh, campaign, and it started off around in, uh, October, around about the 15th of, uh, October (STAMMERS) 1950. And we had, uh, Thanksgiving dinner. We had a hill we named, uh, Turkey Ridge that we had captured where we ate at, and it had already snowed. And what happened when the snow first fell in, in Korea, it doesn't never, uh, uh, thaw out until that next spring. All the rest of the snow from that time on just, uh, piled right up on the, the first snow that fell around in, uh, uh, the 15th of October. And, um, the temperature runs anywhere from 15 to 75 below zero during the, uh (STAMMERS) uh, period of, of, of the winter.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) And (CLEARS THROAT) everything freezes up, even rivers, streams freezes up hard. You, you could take a, we have ran tanks, amtracks and some trucks we ran across rivers. Rivers would be so, uh, uh, hardly frozen. And then from there we, uh, went on up into an area entering into, uh, uh, uh, headed toward the, uh, 38th Parallel. That's as far as we were supposed to go, and I went there, I went there twice up to the 38th Parallel. And before we got there, we was in an area we stayed for a couple of days. I guess they call it regrouping. That's where we met the, uh, the Chinese at. It was something, oh, a great number of Chinese, but anyway, this is where they, they would, uh, um, charge us and blow bugles before they would, uh, uh, make their advances, and we knew they were coming.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) And when they would start out, uh, after it began to, um, uh, break day, when they would start out from their movement toward us, it looked like the whole hillside was, uh, moving, 'cause that's how many of them would be coming after us. And we had our instructors would just tell us to hold your fire, hold your fire until you see them and make sure you, uh, make every round count. And then we fought them off that night, which I can remember we lost a lot of, lot of, uh, of guys that I knew, uh, we lost there in that, in that battle. And then, um, after that, we left, uh, um, Nightmare Alley and went on up, 'cause we thought we had destroyed all of them. We'd killed so many of them at that time, at, at that incident.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) And we went on up from there on up to, I think it was maybe 20 or 25 miles farther up before we got to the, to the, uh, uh, Chosin Reservoir, and it was still cold. And, um, uh, we got to Chosin Reservoir, and we went up and they said that, uh, we had to move back, move back 15, 15 miles below the Chosin Reservoir and dig in. But instead of us leaving off of the Chosin Reservoir, they ran us off. They got the firing going. They ran us off. They had planes and everything out there, but they never did mention that and...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) They meaning?

FRED ASH: And I was...

INTERVIEWER: They being? They ran you off. Who is they? Tell us who ran you off?

FRED ASH: The Chinese.

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

FRED ASH: The Chinese ran us off, off of Chosin Reservoir. And in fact, I got run over there twice. And this is where, uh, General MacArthur got fired, (STAMMERS) and we were all (STAMMERS) upset about it, because we thought he was doing a good job, but he was told not to go all the way up to the Chosin Reservoir. And I went up there, I know I went up there twice. I was there with him when, when he went up there the first time, went up there the second time. And, um, um...

INTERVIEWER: And you said you, your unit was cut off. Do you wanna tell me a little bit about that, tell the audience a little bit about that?

FRED ASH: Yeah, the unit was, was cut off. We stayed cut off for about four or five days. We couldn't get no supplies into us. And, and, uh, we were fighting, uh, enemy from a, a, a semi-circle all around, and we stayed awake from anywhere from five to six days, 24 hours a day. And the only, only way we would get anything was, uh, or any supplies was from air drops, and if the wind wasn't right, you'd drop, the air drops would drop the, uh, supplies into the enemy area, and then you had the, uh, try to destroy that to keep the enemy from getting a hold to it, but we, we had a, a deal that where they'd drop, uh, tons and tons of, uh, of, uh, artillery ammunition and also small arms ammunition right into the enemy, uh, area. And then they had the fighter planes that come in and try to destroy it as much as they could.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit about how you got out, how you reconnected with Allied forces. Do you remember?

FRED ASH: We, um, after we got supplied as, as good as we could and, uh, they had trouble with frostbite and pneumonia and all kind of, uh, uh, sicknesses, other than, uh, uh, gunshot wounds and so forth, and after we got, uh, supplied as good as we could from the air, we, um, fought our way out and then had, we had the, uh, remaining of people that was fighting rear guard for us to come through us and then we, we kept, uh, uh, rotating and going on like that until we got back into the safe area.

INTERVIEWER: And about how long did that take?

FRED ASH: Um, it'd taken somewhere in the neighborhood of three, three to six weeks or better.

INTERVIEWER: So, and, and if this is true, I want you to say this, this is what happened, 'cause that, that, that was three to six weeks of continual fighting.

FRED ASH: Right.

INTERVIEWER: Well, then...

FRED ASH: (OVERLAPPING) That was (STAMMERS) uh, um, three to six weeks of continuous going. Only time we'd get any sleep is, is, uh, um, we'd have sleep sort of like in, in shifts. And it wasn't too much sleep then, 'cause, uh, you was fearful that whoever was on guard, uh, watching for you during the time you were sleeping, they might fall asleep and end up we'd all get killed. So, um, we, we, we would, uh, well, what we used to refer to it as, we sleep with one eye open and one closed.

INTERVIEWER: When did you leave Korea?

FRED ASH: Um, I left, um, Korea in the spring of '51.

INTERVIEWER: And where did you go when you left Korea?

FRED ASH: I came back to, uh, San Francisco, California.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you, you stayed in the Corps. You made the Corps a career.

FRED ASH: Right.

INTERVIEWER: Um, later on, did you ever serve in Vietnam?

FRED ASH: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit, so you got out, tell me when you left the Corps again.

FRED ASH: I was, uh, I retired out of the Marine Corps in 1966 and that was after I had came back from, uh, Vietnam.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Tell the audience about your service in Vietnam, what kind, what kind of assignments did you have in Vietnam.

FRED ASH: I, um...

INTERVIEWER: When did you first go into Vietnam? Tell the audience when you first went into Vietnam.

FRED ASH: I'm trying to, uh, figure that out now. Let me see, I, I went in (STAMMERS) well, I was overseas for a tour in, uh, on Okinawa. I think my tour started in (STAMMERS) '64, about, uh, June or July '64, '65 (STAMMERS) yeah. And, uh, I went on maneuvers in Japan, come back from maneuvers, uh, uh, from Japan and got back onboard ship with the company that I was assigned to, went out and stayed for 93 days floating around on ship. Came back to Okinawa and, uh, got re-supplied, loaded up, uh, uh, fully equipped, ammunition, small ammunition, grenades and everything and went back aboard ship, went directly to, uh, Vietnam and made a landing at a place called Chu Li and I stayed there until, um, in July and, uh, about the 15th of August in '66 and that's when I was routed back.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Tell me what, what you were doing primarily in the Chu Li area, while you were there in Vietnam.

FRED ASH: I was, uh, uh, 20 miles up in the, in the hills from, from where they was building this, uh, uh, airstrip, and they built the airstrip within about a week. And we were acting as, as security. I was 20 miles up in the hills. I had a, a tank platoon, was, uh, the 2nd, yeah, 2nd Platoon, uh, 2nd, 2nd Tank Platoon, B Company.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, what I want you to do, is you've taken us, you've gone through, you went into the Marine Corps right after the First, Second World War, and you were very involved in the Korean War. (TECHNICAL)

FRED ASH: Actually I was in the, uh, Corps for 21 years, but...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Okay. So how, how did it impact your, your life? What do you think the major impact was on your life?

FRED ASH: I think the, the, um...

INTERVIEWER: And tell me the major impact of, of being in the Corps was.

FRED ASH: The, uh, really main, uh, impact I think that, that being in the Marine Corps had on me as an American, it, it made things a lot better, a whole lot better. And I was glad that it did happen after I went through it. That, uh, it, it brought us to the point that where we were more or less looked up, looked upon as men and not second-class citizens. Not only that, uh, it made things better all around, for us, our families and even for the, uh, uh, youngsters, our offspring that are growing up today, made things better. And it got, uh, to the point that where they was, they, they were paying better wages, you get better promotions and then each, every organization, no matter what it is, you got a, a percentage of so many Afro-Americans and other nationalities in all organizations.

FRED ASH: (CONTINUED) Which in the beginning, during the time I came in, you had two types of, of, uh, servicemen. Actually you had the Navy, Air Force and, and (STAMMERS) well, the Air Force is really not as old as the other, but you had the Army Air Force and, uh, you had two types of, of whatever branch it was. You had a, uh, Afro-American and you had the White, but now it's not like that, (STAMMERS) everybody's all one, and which, that's the way I, I think it should have been anyway, because any time a man is, uh, risking his life, the only life that he'll ever have, other than the one in heaven, that, uh, he should be, uh, accepted and treated better than that.

INTERVIEWER: Well, what are your feelings now about having been a Montford Point Marine, somebody who, who, who did go through the Montford Point experience? What, what are your feelings about that now?

FRED ASH: Very...

INTERVIEWER: Looking back?

FRED ASH: I am very, very proud and very glad that I made it. Although if you had talked to me during that time, I wouldn't want no parts of it, 'cause I had wished many a day that, that I could have went back home. But I didn't wanna go back home, because, uh, my mother had told me that, well, you're going in the service. Of course, I didn't tell her what all had happened, you know. But, you're going in the service and, and you might go out there and get yourself killed. (LAUGH) And, uh, the first time that, that I got in a bad situation I thought of that, but it was too late then. Especially when I, when I got, uh, uh, in the, uh, Chosin Reservoir, I really thought about then what my mother had told me.

INTERVIEWER: Anything you wanna add to end this with, 'cause we're, we're at the end and that's my last question. So you got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you got anything...

FRED ASH: Well..

INTERVIEWER: ...you wanna say, just have at it.

FRED ASH: ...I am, uh, I'm, I'm trying to write a book. In fact, it, it, like, with, with this situation if, if I had a, had an idea of what questions that they were gonna ask me, I could've sort of put it down on paper, and it wouldn't have been no exaggerations much that I could figure, but I would've been able to remember better. But, um, I hope that they take it in consideration that this had been a long, long time ago. And Korea was in, back in 1950 and, and, uh, and Vietnam was in '64, '65, '66. And this is December the 17th, 2004. The 26th of, uh, this month I'll be 77 years old, or 77 years young.

INTERVIEWER: Well, this was a very good interview and delighted you could give it to us.

FRED ASH: All right. I wish I could have remember to give you it better, but...


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