When I was pursuing my master’s degree in military history, I decided that I wanted to give my grandfather an opportunity to help me document his military service. I created a questionnaire for him to fill out, and told him that I would not share any of the information he provided until after he, and my grandmother, had passed away. I hoped that, with this proviso of privacy, it would encourage him to share more than he might otherwise. He did not. Much of what I have written so far is based on hints from that questionnaire, and my own research.
While my grandfather Harry’s service record credited him with service in Europe, and the 1943 Naples-Foggia campaign, there is no evidence that he ever left North Africa during his overseas service. It is possible that throughout 1944, in his role as a military policeman, he may have been tasked with ferrying prisoners-of-war from the Sicily, Naples-Foggia theater via ship to North African camps. Though that is merely speculation on my part.
When asked about any promotions and commendations he may have received during this period of his service overseas, he wrote that “This kind of duty there is [sic] no promotions or commendations.” Harry also claimed that there were no actions, missions, or interesting assignments worth noting in 1943-1944. As a student of military history, I find that statement hard to believe. My grandfather’s silence on this period of his service only causes me to continue to dig deeper.
What I do know is that, at the end of August 1944, my grandfather was assigned to escort 500 German prisoners-of-war from an unknown port in the Mediterranean to Hampton Roads, Virginia. The ship arrived in the middle of September 1944 and Harry was granted a ten-day leave to return to New Jersey and visit family. I can only imagine how relieving it must have been for the family, and especially my grandmother, to see my grandfather safely back in the United States.
Harry’s next duty assignment was to send him to the west coast, and the Military Police Depot at Oakland, California. Based on my grandfather’s separation documents, he was sent to serve at a prisoner-of-war camp located at Camp Beale, California. Camp Beale was located in rural Yuma County, California, about 130 miles northeast of San Francisco. Prisoners from the camp were often hired by local farmers to help with agricultural activities. My grandfather likely served as a guard for these work crews at times during his service there.
The war in Europe was coming to an end during the spring of 1945, but the United States Army was already making plans to ship the 795th Military Police Battalion to the Pacific to continue the fight against Japan. Harry was probably not aware of this preliminary planning while stationed at Camp Beale, but I am sure he was anxious about the possibility. Luckily Japan would surrender four months later and, while an element of the 795th was sent to the Philippines, most of the unit was discharged from service by the end of 1945. Sergeant Harry Ashworth was honorably discharged in November 1945.
Harry was issued $152.35 in travel pay and boarded a train that would take him across the country and back to his beloved Myrtle. After the war, my grandparents began raising their family. My grandmother once said that “all Pop-pop [Harry] had to do was lay his pants over the bedframe and she would get pregnant.” My grandfather rarely spoke of his service to his family. Occasionally army buddies would drop by the house, and I am sure they talked about their war experiences. When my grandfather finished the questionnaire I gave him, he ended it with the simple statement: “End of story.” What he failed to realize at the time was that it was just the beginning of my search for a greater understanding of his experience. A search that goes on.
I am always seeking out sources that can help me better document my grandfather’s story. If you have information that you think would be useful, please email me through my Contact page.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.