legacy of valor

The sacred duty of memorializing the sacrifice and service of WWII veterans

Lieutenant Commander Jacob Britt ’29, USN.
Lieutenant Lion Tyler Miles ’31, USN.
Lieutenant Louis Joseph Gulliver Jr. ‘36, USN.
Lieutenant John Wythe Hayes ’36, USN.
Lieutenant Kenneth Edward Pound ’37, USN.

Naval Academy alumni spanning the Classes of 1972 to 2004 gathered on 3 March 2024 to honor the valor and sacrifice of five alumni who perished 82 years earlier 300 miles south of Java. The 166-man crew of the USS Asheville PG-21 fought valiantly but was no match for three Japanese warships.

The 1920 American gunboat held out for 30 minutes. All but one of Asheville’s crew perished that day. Their bravery was honored during a solemn moment at Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, NC with the assembled Academy alumni commemorating their fallen fellow alumni by reading their names alongside a newly unveiled monument dedicated to Asheville’s crew.

Captain Kerry Ingalls ’83, USN (Ret.), a former commanding officer of USS Asheville SSN-758, told an audience of sailors, alumni, elected officials, and veterans how Lieutenant Walter Ashe, SC, USN (Ret.) inspired him. Ashe served on the first Asheville in the late 1930s. He moved to Asheville based on his name, his connection with PG-21 and his desire to keep the memories of his shipmates alive.

During his tour as commanding officer, Ingalls surfaced Asheville SSN-758 at the site of the original ship’s sinking. His crew laid a wreath, performed a rifle salute, and created a video of the commemoration for the city of Asheville.

“It’s critically important that our sailors know upon whose shoulders they stand,” Ingalls said. “It’s critically important our citizens understand the sacrifices our men and women in uniform, and their families, make every day on behalf of freedom.

“It was a privilege for me to participate. To know that even though the bodies of those sailors are resting in the South Java Sea, their spirit, their memory, and the honor of their sacrifice is here with us today and for now on.”

The dedication of the Asheville monument exemplifies the alumni community’s commitment to document and ensure stories of valor are preserved to inspire future generations. Chris Perrien ’74 spearheaded the effort to formally recognize the Asheville’s crew. Supported by his fellow alumni in North Carolina, including members of the North Carolina Triangle chapter, Perrien partnered with Asheville city officials, local veterans and alumni, and the city’s fire department to make the monument a reality.

Perrien said Britt and his crew showcased incredible honor in the face of overwhelming odds. It reminded Perrien of the Naval Academy’s Honor Code. He said Britt likely knew his ship’s fate when he led the crew into battle.

“We’re supposed to go out there and get in the way of the enemy,” Perrien said. “You have to have the confidence of conviction to do the right thing despite the circumstances.”
While the City of Asheville never forgot PG-21, Perrien said the community rallied so the ship’s crew will remain an inspiration in perpetuity.

“We’ve ensured she’ll always be remembered,” Perrien said.

Captain Doug Guthe ‘76, USN (Ret.) was among the Naval Academy contingent at the Riverside Cemetery ceremony. The second commanding officer of USS Asheville-SSN-758 was joined by Captain Fred Dohse ’72, USN (Ret.), Rear Admiral Samuel J Cox ’80, USN (Ret.), Commander Bob Byron ’85, USN (Ret.), Captain Scott Steadley ’85, USN (Ret.), Lieutenant Colonel John Walls ‘86, USMC (Ret.), Captain Reece Morgan ’89, USN (Ret.), Eric Shangle ’97, and Noah White ’04.

Guthe said 166 city residents enlisted following the loss of the Asheville.

“That indicates the dedication that the people of Asheville and people of the United States have for supporting our military,” Guthe said.

White said the valor of Asheville’s crew deepens his respect for the freedoms Americans enjoy. He supported the Asheville commemoration to honor those who put others before themselves and to perpetuate that legacy.

“It’s who we are,” White said. “When it was on the line, they did their duty until the very end. It’s important to remember that, and what it means to be an American, especially one with a naval background.”

‘Vitally important’

Captain Jack Gillooly ’45, USN (Ret.), remembers the excruciating heat. A Japanese pilot rammed his plane into the light cruiser COLUMBIA’S port side. The kamikaze attack turned the light cruiser’s main battery director into an inferno in Leyte Gulf.

“Heat like you wouldn’t believe,” Gillooly said.

The former Naval Academy offensive lineman was frantic. He hurled himself down a hatch into a lower deck. Gillooly was distraught. Thankfully, he ran into a friend from the Academy who calmed him down. Eventually, Gillooly regained his composure, amid a second kamikaze strike, to man COLUMBIA’S forward 5-inch director.

Gillooly hopes sharing his World War II experiences will benefit future generations of midshipmen.
“That’s vitally important,” Gillooly said. “They need to know there were people who were stepping up to the plate in those days. They need to know something about Guadalcanal and the sacrifices that were made. It will help them become better naval officers if they understand that.”

While the Greatest Generation might not have appreciated the significance of their actions during World War II, their courage is obvious. Bob Taylor, son of Commander Dawson Taylor ’46, USNR (Ret.), said time can chip away the magnitude of the consequences of World War II if the experiences are allowed to whither.

Then-Ensign Taylor was underway in Leyte Gulf when Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed. While that brought a sigh of relief, Taylor’s tour included transporting sailors and soldiers back to the United States from the Philippines.

Bob Taylor said it’s essential to preserve their stories.

“That history starts to get lost or diminished the further you get away from it,” Taylor said. “Most folks would say that is an amazing story. They knew what they were sailing into.”

Lieutenant Commander Charles G. Sobel ’45, USNR (Ret.), was a submariner during World War II. He and his classmates understood what awaited them upon commissioning a year early from the Naval Academy.

Sobel said the World War II generation didn’t contextualize their place in history as it was happening, they were just committed to eliminating the threats facing the nation and world.

“We didn’t think in those terms,” Sobel said in an August 2023 interview. He died 14 November. “We thought of our patriotism. We were anxious to show the world we were the best Navy, and we did that.”

Service Matters

Admiral Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, said Americans owe the Greatest Generation an unpayable debt. The valor veterans’ demonstrated and the steep price of victory demands their stories be remembered and shared for successive generations.

"War is hell, and we shouldn't glorify it,” Cox said. “But, we should always honor and remember not only those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also those who served and survived horrific battles in forsaken deserts, jungles, treacherous seas or being adrift in the ocean.

“World War II was the bloodiest and most costly war in human history; an existential global fight between tyranny and freedom. We owe all these veterans for our freedom, because victory came at such a very high price."

Midshipman Max Bueno ’24 finds inspiration in his grandfather’s service aboard the destroyer KEARNEY during World War II. Bueno said with the last of the surviving members of the Greatest Generation leaving us, it’s critical to appreciate their sacrifices.He participated in welcoming Honor Flights veterans to the Washington, DC area. It was a small way to give back, Bueno said.

“It was awesome to see the veterans come off the plane and salute them,” said Bueno, who served as Midshipmen Action Group president in fall 2023. “It felt very inspiring knowing we were paying back in some way by showing our appreciation for these veterans.

“It’s even more important for us to show up and make sure the remaining (World War II veterans) know their service matters and is appreciated by the generations now.”

Ensuring the service stories of officers and individual citizen soldiers are preserved is a passion for Jeremy Collins, director of conferences and symposia at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. The museum’s archives include more than 10,000 personal accounts of veterans, eyewitnesses to the war, and Holocaust survivors.

Collins said he is inspired by the museum’s veteran volunteers. He said recalling conversations with those veterans can turn a tough day into brighter one.

“It is a good reminder of why we are here,” Collins said. “To make sure somebody is telling their stories, now that they’re going and soon to be gone.”

‘Vital to our Survival’

Captain Bill Toti ’79, USN (Ret.), served as commodore of Submarine Squadron 3 in Peal Harbor, HI in the early 2000s. He spent much of his active-duty career based in Hawaii where reminders of the cost of freedom are omnipresent.

Toti, a cohost of the Unauthorized History of the Pacific War podcast, said current and future generations can honor the Greatest Generation by living up to the ideals that inspired millions of Americans to rally in support of the war effort.

“It’s critical that we remember our World War II veterans for two reasons: to honor them and to provide for our future,” Toti said. “Those veterans suffered the most horrific war in the history of mankind for our benefit, and we should continually ask ourselves if we are behaving in a way that, as the Tom Hanks character said in “Saving Private Ryan,” “earns this.”

“There are so many lessons from that war that must not be forgotten, lessons that can help us avoid a future similarly tragic conflagration. Those lessons are vital to our survival.”

Over the past 20 years Bob Abate ’63 has made it his mission to document and share the stories of World War II veterans. He has conducted nearly 200 interviews including veterans of the D-Day invasion.

Abate said many of the veterans are hesitant-and too humble-to tell their stories. His appreciation for the Greatest Generation was sparked growing up in the Highbridge section of the Bronx where many of his neighbors were veterans.

“I feel a certain moral obligation to tell their stories because without them we would not be where we are today,” said Abate, who separated from the Academy and graduated from Fordham University.