Fireman Third Class Welborn Lee Ashby was born on October 19, 1917 in Centertown, Kentucky. The second of six children to parents Otis and Inez Ashby. Welborn was nicknamed “Tiddly” as a child because of his fondness of playing Tiddlywinks with his friends. He, along with his sisters; Altha A. and Martha M., and brothers; Shelby Carrol, James Douglas and William Lawrence, worked on the family farm. Welborn graduated from Centertown High School in 1936 and enlisted in the Navy on September 24, 1940. On November 15, 1940 he boarded the Battleship USS West Virginia bound for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
In February 1942, the Ashby family received a telegram from the Navy that said they were “unable to locate” their son. A short time later a second telegram informed the family that the Navy “declared Welborn to have lost his life in service of his country as of December 7, 1941. He was the first World War II casualty of Ohio County, Kentucky.
Although Ashby’s remains were eventually recovered during salvage operations but could not be individually identified at the time, he was interred and memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Around 2011 His sister, Martha (Ashby) Christian, who since passed in 2017, and Martha’s son Mark Christian, provided DNA samples to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. DPAA scientists used laboratory and forensic anthropological analyses to identify Ashby’s remains. In October 2019 DPAA officially announced positive identification of Welborn’s remains to the Ashby family.
The USS West Virginia, aka the “Wee Vee” was a Maryland Class Battleship of 624 feet in length, weighing 31,800 tons. During the attack, the USS West Virginia was moored just forward of the USS Arizona and berthed next to the USS Tennessee. As the outboard ship, the West Virginia was hit with five torpedoes on its port side and two armor piercing bombs. While the extensive damage to the hull caused the battleship to sink, quick counter-flooding efforts by the crew saved the ship from capsizing so that it settled a on an even keel in the mud of the harbor bottom. The West Virginia carried a crew 1,454 officer and men, 106 of whom died during the attack. On May 17, 1942 it was re-floated, and temporary repairs were made to ready the vessel for a cruise to Puget Sound for modernization and more extensive repairs. The USS West Virginia returned to war service on September 14, 1944 and was present in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945 for the signing if the formal Japanese surrender documents.
Ashby’s ultimate sacrifice to his country has been recognized in several ways. The Navy awarded Ashby the Purple Heart. Ohio County of the Kentucky Transportation department designated the portion of Route 69 that runs through Centertown the ‘F3c Welborn Lee Ashby Memorial Highway’. Also, the Centertown American Legion has been renamed to the ‘Welborn Lee Ashby American Legion’. In addition, Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson awarded Welborn a posthumous commission as a ‘Kentucky Colonel’.
The family’s original plans to bury Ashby next to his parents in Centertown in 2020 were postponed due to the COVID pandemic and will now be taking place on Memorial Day, May 31, 2021. The funeral service at Bevil Brothers Funeral Home in Beaver Dam, Kentucky. Visitation begins at 10am. Funeral service begins at 1:00pm followed by burial service at the Centertown Cemetery. The Navy is providing full military honors. Volunteer members from Smoke On Aviation of Louisville, Kentucky will honor Welborn with a “Missing Man Fly-over” at the conclusion of the sounding of Taps.
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Ashby's personnel profile POW/MIA can be viewed at Welborn Lee Ashby POW/MIA accounting
Local TV news of Welborn’s memorial plans https://www.tristatehomepage.com/news/local-news/family-of-ohio-co-man-killed-in-pearl-harbor-prepare-for-memorial/
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