If you’re out by Jefferson County’s Deep Springs Road and see a stout older fellow checking the oil on his daughter-in-law Shelley’s car, or sanding on some artsy dustpans, you may have seen 99 year-old Ashley Valentine.
Born in 1923 in Sevier County’s Richardson Cove, Ashley was one of three sons and two daughters of Rev. A.P. and Tildy Ogle Valentine. Rev. Valentine preached at a good number of churches in Sevier and Cocke Counties as well as working his Pittman Center farm to provide for his family. Ashley is an ancestor of Gatlinburg’s earliest settlers on the Ogle side of the family, with his great-great grandfather being the first settler in the town. He’s also one of the fewer living combat veterans of World War II.
Ashley had first noticed pretty Kathleen Price during his early school years. “I had met her in the third grade and we went on to school together. In high school I had noticed that she had got pretty and had curls in her hair, and on weekends I’d go to see her. I was 20 years old and had graduated from high school. I had an uncle in Dalton, Georgia, and we caught a bus to Dalton and went to Judge John Oglethorpe’s house. A man told him we were there and he came out in his housecoat and married us on his front porch on April 19, 1943.”
The 20 years-old Ashley soon got his call to the military and went with friend Glen Branham to Catron’s Chapel to join the Air Force. “We were told that they were full and we thought that we’ll just join the Marine Corps”, he told. Ashley was sent to San Diego for basic training and on to training as a .30 caliber water-cooled machine gunner. He told that he loved to fire the gun and that at the time he could handle the heavy weapon that took a crew of 3 – one to carry the gun and two to carry the ammunition. Following his training he was put aboard a troop ship.
Guadalcanal had just fallen to the Americans and his troop ship arrived at the island of Pavulu, just below Guadalcanal. “I had a friend in that battle and he said he fired his gun until the barrel melted,” he told. From there he went on to Brisbane, Australia, and New Caldonia. Ashley would be assigned to the First Regiment, First Battalion, and 3rd Platoon of the First Marine Division, where they trained for the invasion of Pelilu.
Pelilu is one of 6 islands in a group 350 miles east of the Philippines. Covering around 6 square miles, a number of U.S. military leaders were against the bloody invasion which would cost 2,000 American Marine and Army and 10,000 Japanese soldiers’ lives. The battle was particularly brutal because the Japanese defense had evolved to linked caves and rock formations. The Battle of Peleliu lasted from September 5 until November 27, 1944, with 35 Japanese soldiers surrendering nearly two years after the war had ended. Ashley’s Purple Heart was by his side as he told of his experience.
“We went in on the second wave”, he recalled.
“They thought that it would take a week to take the island. That was a rough island and we went in on an Amtrac. The first wave was about 100 yards ahead when we hit the beach. We didn’t even get our feet wet. The men were starting to spread out and we looked and one man was standing up like nothing was going on. I looked out when a mortar round went over my head and landed in the mud about 10 feet away. I dropped my rifle at my side and had been hit in my wrist with a 2 or 3 inch piece of scrap iron shrapnel. It had hit an artery and my hand was covered with blood.
“The lieutenant had told us to to spread out”, he continued. “I held up my bleeding arm for him to see. He was surprised and first thought that I wanted to know what time it was, and replied that it was 10 o’clock. He then seen the blood, motioned and came over and found out where I was hit. They put a tourniquet on my wrist and that didn’t stop the bleeding, then put one above my elbow and then sent me back to the ship. They pulled all my clothes off at the ship and took us to an island where they finally gave me an officer’s shirt. I later put it in my seabag and brought it back home.”
The Battle of Okinawa would be the largest Pacific assault of the war and the 82 day battle would take place from April 1 through June 5, 1945. The island of Okinawa is 340 miles south of the main Japanese Island and is roughly 60 miles long and 20 miles wide. A large number of American ships would be struck by suicide bombers, with 12,000 Army, Navy and Marines, along with 100,000 Japanese soldiers and 100,000 Okinawan citizens dying in the battle. The highest profile casualty of the battle would be popular journalist Ernie Pyle.
“We had regrouped after Pelalu”, he told of the battle. “Okinawa was a big island. I was in a support Pioneer group where we had to get ammo from the ship to the front line. It was too muddy to get what we needed in there. We caught about 30 horses and the mud was half way up their legs. I had two horses and one wore out, so I turned it loose and took the other one in. We’d let them know we were there with the ammo and they’d come and get it and we’d go back for more.”
“The Army had went into the southern part and we went to help them out. Some Japanese soldiers survived on Okinawa and they’d tell us where their groups were, but there were still scattered Japanese soldiers all around. They were still fighting when we were ordered to pull back. We finally regrouped on a small island between Japan and Okinawa. We could hear the (atomic) bomb from the island. They finally told us to quit firing and there wasn’t no firing or nothing. We waited, then the Japanese started shooting and came back at us until the other bomb went off.
“When they surrendered, they told us we could go out to the mouth of the river.. We thought that maybe we would get to go home, but in a day or two, two big transport ships came to take us to Tientsin, China, to disarm the Japanese troops there. After that, we played baseball with the Chinese. They finally brought in another troop ship that took us to California. I took the railroad to North Carolina and a bus on to Paris Island. Finally on my way home I came to Sevierville. When I was coming home, I seen Gene Justice on a flatbed truck.”
Following his return home, one of Ashley’s jobs would be at Sevierville’s McNelly-Whaley Ford dealership, while he also ran a chicken business. He and Kathleen would raise children Janice, Joan, Clive and Lynn, who would provide them with a number of grandchildren.
“When we were working with chickens, I could put a 50# bag of chicken feed on each shoulder, but I can’t do that now,” he smiled as he ended.