I want to thank everyone here today for joining us in this Memorial ceremony. It is your support that makes the memory of those 160 sailors, on the good ship USS Asheville PG21, that gave their lives so we could be here today, such a memorable occasion. Your attendance shows the great spirit that prevails in our city. The late navy Admiral Boorda, then Chief of Naval Personnel, said “For a city, without harbor, beach or pier Asheville has truly proven itself a great “Navy Town.”
The gunboat Asheville, built in Charleston shipyard, served in China waters off and on since 1923. She was not a fleet ship but operated independently, giving refuge and protection for American citizens along the 2,000 mile China coast.
I am very proud to have served on the Asheville for 2-1/2 years, from 1936-1939, along the China coast. I must say that of all the ships I served on in my 30 years naval service, the Asheville was the most memorable of all. Fortunately I was not onboard on March 3, 1942 when she was sunk, in battle with a large Japanese force. All hands were lost in the shark infested waters without a hope of rescue, except one who was taken onboard the Japanese warship apparently to identify the ship they had sunk. He died in a Japanese prison camp, enduring 3 years of horrible treatment, from pellagra, dysentery and heart trouble. But like the Grecian legend bird ,the Phoenix, that built its greatness from its own ashes, we have kept the navy ship Asheville high in the navies history and today it triumphantly rises from the ashes of that gunboat to become the new nuclear attack submarine , USS ASHEVILLE SSN758, that today sails majestically throughout the Pacific ocean and our city was instrumental in its commissioning.
In 1984 we organized a reunion here in Asheville for the former Asheville sailors. It was a wonderful occasion. The city turned all out and entertained us royally. A private tour of the Biltmore House was given by Bill Cecil, the merchant businesses gave us an arrival party, the Mayor gave each a gold sealed proclamation, the Rotary Club gave corsages to all that attended the banquet given by the Asheville Industries and Men’s Garden Club put roses in every room we occupied. The banks and the Veteran groups paid for our luncheon at the Deer Park Restaurant. Young’s travel supplied bus service and the Citizen-Times supplied plenty of newspaper coverage. Well, it was so successful we founded a permanent organization called the South China Patrol, later the Yangtze Patrol joined us and now we are the South China Yangtze Patrol. Part of our membership now are “patrons” who joined with us because they wanted to be a part of such a unique group of “Old China Hands” as we are known, and to receive our award winning newsletter called the ChinaGunBoatMan of which I am honored to be the editor. Also during the commissioning of our latest attack nuclear submarine, the USS ASHEVILLE SSN758, we organized a naval display of all the four ships named after our city, with funds supplied by the local Fleet Reserve Association and the Navy League. The North Carolina local department of History and Archives did all the building for us. It is here today, in the city hall, that we also honor the establishment of this naval display.
It was at the Regional Asheville Airport since 1994, but here it will be more assessable to local citizens and school groups to understand their great naval heritage.
We propose, and hope to accomplish, a reunion here in 2006 for all those able to travel; after all the members are all in their 80’s. It will probably be our last reunion and what could be better than to have our first and last reunion right here in our namesake city. So with your blessings we hope to have a memorable reunion as great as we had in 1984. Thanks again for your support and attendance today.