Remembering the fallen
Son of WW2 veteran recalls dad's service
For Tom Ashford, this past Memorial Day was a solemn day to remember his father 2nd Lt. George Ashford, who was killed on a bombing mission over Germany in World War 2.
Ashford, who has been splitting his time between Fort Myers Beach and Kentucky for 30 years, felt so strongly about his father’s heroic service to the country in fighting fascism that he and his family contributed to a Blue Star Memorial marker that was recently posted in front of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library by the Estero Island Garden Club. Ashford’s wife Polky belongs to the garden club.
Ashford was just a toddler when his father and eight other crewmen in the 303rd Bombing Group were shot down in their B-17 Bomber in September of 1944. “It was only their fourth mission,” he said. “It was their first mission in this plane.”
The bomber exploded and crashed near Heerte, Germany, which is south of Brunswick, according to military records. Only the pilot was able to parachute safely out of the plane. The pilot, 1st Lt. Charles Glasgow, became a prisoner of war and wrote to him and his mother after the war about what had happened. “I was probably nine-years-old when she gave (the letter) to me,” he said. In the letter, Glasgow spoke about meeting Ashford’s father and what life was like while they were stationed in England riding bicycles in the countryside.
“I still have the letter,” Ashford said. He said that Glasgow, a U.S. Military Academy graduate, visited the families of all the servicemen who were on the B-17 bomber with him. According to his obituary, Glasgow went on to fly 129 missions on the Berlin Airlift and received two Purple Hearts.
Ashford’s dad had been attending Transylvania College (now Transylvania University) in Kentucky, where he was captain of the basketball team, when the war broke out. He dropped out of college in his junior year in 1943 to join the U.S. Air Force – the same year his son was born.
Since he can remember, Ashford said he was aware of what happened to his father. His earliest memories include being with his grandparents and hearing stories about his father. “His parents tried to adopt me,” Ashford said. “I spent a lot of summers growing up with them.”
Ashford has photos with his father from the times he came back home to visit before going out to Europe. Ashford’s father trained in Louisiana and he has photos of himself with his father on the Gulf of Mexico.
Ashford’s mother Virginia worked on the grounds crew at the Cincinnati airport during the war. After the war, she remarried to Frank Pieratt, who started an appliance store business. The appliance store business, Pieratts Inc. is still in the family’s hands, and sells mattresses, furniture, bedding and television sets in Lexington and Richmond, Kentucky. Ashford spent his career working in the business as a branch manager and in marketing, before retiring.
In 1952, 2nd Lt. Ashford’s body was brought back from Belgium to be buried in Alexandria, Kentucky. Ashford had originally been buried in Germany with the other servicemen by Germans before their remains were moved. “I remember the ceremony very well. It was a full ceremony with military honors, a band and color guard,” Ashford said. There was a large crowd attending as Ashford was one of 12 children and “had a lot of friends,” he said. “There was quite a few people there.”
Years later, Tom and Polky went out to Denmark for a rotary club convention and decided to visit Germany and see the town where his father died. It was a small town with a factory which made trailers.
They met the owner of the factory, who was in his 80’s at the time, who told them he remembered the plane being shot down. He brought them to the forest where the Americans had been buried decades earlier. He also told them he remembered Glasgow being taken to a prisoner of war camp. According to military records, Russian soldiers had also been buried nearby.
“It kind of brought closure to something I yearned for and didn’t realize it for many years,” Ashford said. “It was kind of a relief. It put things into perspective. It was like a load off my shoulders.” Growing up, Ashford said he had hoped that his father didn’t really die.
He didn’t share with classmates that his father had been killed in World War 2. “It wasn’t something I talked about,” he said. He didn’t know anybody with similar experiences.
This Memorial Day brought a renewed sense to Ashford that the country was recognizing those who gave their life in service. For the first time, he shared his father’s story on Facebook.
Raised in Kentucky, Ashford visited Fort Myers Beach for decades with his family before building a home here in 1989. His mother, Virginia, bought a home on Fort Myers Beach in the 1970’s. His siblings have either purchased properties or rent here.
“I like the beach,” Ashford said. “I like the sunsets. I like the people. I like boating and fishing.”
Ashford’s father was part of what is known as the “greatest generation” for having grown up through the Great Depression and then fighting to end the onslaught of Nazi Germany, the fascist regime of Italy and imperial Japan.
Through research, Ashford learned that his dad’s outfit had been involved in the bombing of Magdeburg in Germany. Magdeburg was an important city to the Germans during the war for producing oil.
“There are not many of (those) veterans left,” he said.