Jefferson Askew joined the Navy at age 23 in 1940, almost a year before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. By war’s end, he had made 38 trips across the Atlantic in a minuscule destroyer escort, the USS Amick, helping to protect 150-ship convoys making the hazardous voyage to Europe during World War II.
A 306-foot destroyer escort, with its 3-inch main guns and crew of 180 sailors, was the smallest ships in the U.S. Navy. Crossing the North Atlantic in a ship that size was an adventure in itself.
“I saw 65-foot waves wash right over the Amick as we crossed the North Atlantic,” the 91-year-old former Navy man recalled. “Everybody was inside the ship battened down.”
The way convoy duty aboard the Amick worked, Askew’s ship would begin forming the convoy in Norfolk and sail up the coast to Boston, picking up transport ships along the way. The convoy then gathered in Boston and sailed for Greenland, and then headed on to the Mediterranean and Allied ports in France and Italy, where the goods of war would be unloaded.
The Amick and eight or nine other destroyers or destroyer escorts shepherded the slow-moving Liberty ships and Victory ships across the turbulent Atlantic, trying to keep their charges out of the clutches of German submarines. The U-boats fought the U.S. Navy’s continuous stream of transports headed for Europe with subs working together in wolfpacks.
“German subs would try and infiltrate our convoy, but we were always able to pick ’em up and depth charge the enemy submarines. We never lost a single ship to submarines during all those crossings,” he said.
Once, at night, when they had almost reached port, they were attacked by a dozen German bombers in the Mediterranean. The destroyers escorting the big convoy and the transports themselves fired such a huge volley at the enemy bombers that they caused them to turn back, but not before several were shut down.
“One time, we dropped depth charges on a German submarine and forced it to come to the surface. I was on my way over to the damaged German U-boat in a whale boat as part of a boarding party,” he said. “I had my .45-caliber pistol strapped to my side and we had almost reached the sub when another one of our destroyers got ahead of us. It was the crew of the other destroyer that took the enemy crew prisoner.”
The leader of the other destroyer’s boarding party, a young lieutenant, received the Medal of Honor for his efforts, because the German sub was carrying an Enigma machine. This was the enemy code machine Allied cryptographers had been working day and night for months to break.
The way convoy duty worked, once the Amick and the other destroyer escorts reached port in Europe with their transports, the escort ships and their crew would spend five days in port.
“We’d get leave and a bunch of us would go to Paris, London or whatever big city we were close to that had been liberated,” Askew said. “Then we’d get back aboard our ship and sail back to the U.S. We did it over and over again.
“The day before the Germans surrendered, we were sailing into Boston Harbor with a convoy when we came across a German sub waiting just outside the entrance to the harbor in 90 feet of water. Depth charges were dropped and the sub blew up. The next day, they sent divers down and found the sub on the bottom split open,” he said.
When V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) was announced on the radio by President Harry Truman, the world went from war and death to loving and partying.
“It was some party. People were singing, crying, drinking and partying in the streets of Boston,” Askew said. “Car horns were being honked, sirens were blowing and outside speakers blared the news that the war in Europe was over.”
Since he had signed up for a six-year hitch, Askew still had most of a year to go in the Navy.
“Eventually, I was transferred to the Battleship Missouri that was in Norfolk when I got aboard her in 1946. The Missouri was making ready to take President Truman and his daughter, Margaret, on a cruise to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend some kind of a special conference,” he said. “Every morning, the president would walk on deck and talk to the sailors. I remember shaking his hand and talking to him, but I don’t remember what I said because it’s too many years ago.”
After Askew retired in 1976, he and his wife, Mildred, moved to Florida. The couple has lived at Southport Square for the past two years.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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Jefferson R. “Jeff” Askew, 93, of Port Charlotte, Fla., died Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 at Harbor Health Center in Port Charlotte.
He was born July 26, 1916 in Russellville, Ala., to Joseph E. Askew and Viola Bullington Askew .
Jeff moved to Port Charlotte with his wife in 1976 from Stony Point, N.Y. He retired after being employed by the U.S. Government for 30 years as a naval shipyard superintendent. Jeff was a veteran of World War II serving in the U.S. Navy as Chief Electrician Mate. Member of Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, Stony Point Lodge 313 F & AM of Stony Point, served as a High Priest in the Royal Arch Masons, a Past Patron of the Order of the Eastern Star, member of the Amaranth and American Legion Post 110 of Port Charlotte.
Survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Mildred E. Askew of Port Charlotte; a sister, Elizabeth Shikle of Alabama; friends, Sidney and Marty White of Port Charlotte; and many nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be held from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. with funeral service to follow at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 at Roberson Funeral Home, Port Charlotte Chapel. The Rev. Brian James of the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church will officiate. Military Honors by the U.S. Navy and interment will follow at Restlawn Memorial Gardens, Port Charlotte.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, 21075 Quesada Ave., Port Charlotte, FL 33952. Friends may visit online at http://www.robersonfh.com to sign the guestbook and express condolences.
Arrangements are by Roberson Funeral Home, Port Charlotte Chapel.