By Andrew Tobia
Alfred Harry Ash was born on September 18, 1918, the first child of recently married Alfred and Ethel Ash. His father was raised inYonkers and his mother was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to emigrants from England. Alfred was followed by: his sister, Edna (named for their paternal grandmother), in 1921; his brother, Kenneth (named for their uncle), in ’23; and his second brother, George, in ’24.
His father was also the oldest of four children — Alfred’s aunts and uncles were Kenneth, Clara and Harold. Over the years, his father worked in various professions. At 18, before marrying Edna and while still living with his parents on New Main Street, the elder Alfred worked as a store clerk. In August 1918, at the age of 21, he was drafted into the Army, leaving his newly-wed and pregnant wife for a brief stint in World War I (it ended three months later). At 23, back in the States, he was a wage laborer at a factor. By 1930, living on Warburton Avenue, he was a letter carrier with the USPS — Ethel’s sister Alice lived with them at this time, as well.
By 1940, the Ashes had moved to Woodworth Avenue. At only 42 years old, elder Alfred was no longer working — presumably due to a workplace accident or disability that prevented him from doing so — but all of his children worked to help maintain the household (while still attending school). Younger Alfred, now 21, made deliveries for a grocer; Edna, 19, was a domestic worker for a private household; Kenneth, 17, and George, 16, were “scouts” for a pest control company. Elder Alfred would pass away four years later, at only 46 years old.
Younger Alfred graduated from Saunders Trades School in the summer of 1941 and married his high school sweetheart, Ann Josephine Hesch — daughter of “Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hesch,” who lived on Ramsey Avenue — on December 14 of that year, seven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Six months later, he joined the Army Air Force (before the Air Force became its own branch of the Armed Forces). A long and varied, yet successful, career followed.
After basic training — likely at Fort Dix, New Jersey — Private First Class Alfred Harry Ash served with the Advanced Air Depot of the Ninth Air Force Service Command, first in England and then in France, raising through the ranks for four years. His conduct was so excellent that it caught the attention of his superiors and, in 1945, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, transferred to the Infantry and stationed at Fontainbleu, France, just south of Paris.
At the end of World War II, Ash spent some time at home with his wife and two-year-old son, Dennis, before being transferred to Korea for Occupation Duty (the Korean Peninsula was a colony of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II). His wife and son joined him there, living in Korea for about 13 months. He was promoted to First Lieutenant during this time, in February 1947.
In July of 1948, the Ashes returned home to the States. Now serving with the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division (one of the oldest and most decorated active duty infantry regiments in the US Army), Ash was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. Ann and Dennis returned home to Yonkers to stay with Ann’s parents.
Upon the outbreak of the Korean War on June 25th, 1950, Ash was rushed from the West Coast to Korea in order to aid the UN and South Korean defenses, collapsing in the face of North Korea’s massive initial attack. The ship on which Ash was transported made the US-to-Korea trip in record-breaking time — it took only 10 days, from July 17 to 27, 1950. After a brief time at anchor awaiting the rest of the convoy, Ash and the 9th disembarked, making landfall in South Korea in the last days of July or first days of August.
Defense preparations were so hectic, and his time in Korea so ultimately short, that Ash only had time to write one letter to his wife — dated August 5, 1950, he wrote her that he expected to be moved to Outpost duty the next day.
It is unclear which unit Ash was a part of while serving in Korea. Two sources list him as having been transferred to the 20th Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division — one of those sources goes so far as to specify that he was serving as Regimental Food Service Supervisor for the 20th. Others, however, list him has having remained with the 9th.
What is clear is that, likely in command of a platoon — a unit consisting of anywhere from 25 to 65 men — Ash was sent to the tiny farming village of Yongsan-ri. It is located on the east bank of the Naktong River, precisely where the tributary Nam River joins it, which was part of the Pusan Perimeter. During the First Battle of Naktong Bulge, Ash and his men were ambushed by a large force of North Korean soldiers and took heavy losses. Ash was reported Missing in Action (MIA) on August 12, 1950.
Sometime between then and early 1952, Ash’s remains were recovered and his status was changed from MIA to Killed in Action (KIA) on August 12, 1950. This makes Ash, so far as our research has been able to uncover, the first Yonkers man killed during the Korean War — sources we used which listed either Army Corporal Gerardo Romano Mandia (see this space in Yonkers Rising on May 24, 2013) or Army Corporal William Francis “Hooks” Callahan (this space, May 17, 2013) as the first Yonkers man killed were obviously inaccurate.
Ash’s remains returned to the United States, along with those of 149 other brave soldiers, on May 8, 1952 aboard the ship South Bend Victory. He was interred, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., on June 2, 1952. In attendance were his mother, wife and now five-year-old son, all still living in Yonkers; his sister Edna, who had married into the Forshaw family of Norfolk, Virginia; his brother Kenneth, who remained in Yonkers; and his brother George, who had moved to Miami, Florida.
Ash is the recipient of the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal (with Japan Clasp), World War II Victory Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea War Service Medal and Purple Heart.