- [S77] Rawlings Funeral Home Records 1911-1995, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 7 Nov 1989.
Buford Mayford Cole obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 7 Nov 2010.
Atchley helped protect supplies for troops
by JEFF FARRELL The Mountain Press
World War II veteran Frank Atchley reviews pictures of his time serving with the United States Navy Armed Guard.
You don’t often hear about the United States Navy Armed Guard, but Frank Atchley remembers them well.
The 85-year-old Sevierville native served with the unit from 1943 until the end of World War II, helping to guard convoys as they ferried supplies and troops across oceans. The unit was disbanded after World War II.
“It sounds like we were just standing around guarding something, but we were on the ships,” Atchley said.
Atchley was drafted in 1943, and eventually assigned to the Navy and then to the Guard. They were the sailors who went along with merchant marine vessels to defend them in the event of attack. He spent most of the war after that crisscrossing the Atlantic.
The Navy didn’t have enough ships to protect all the merchant marine vessels that delivered supplies, and to help provide more defense the ships were fitted with guns and with sailors to man them.
Atchley said they would take shifts standing watch, looking for signs of enemy vessels or aircraft. When they weren’t doing that, they were maintaining the big guns mounted on the ships and performing other functions.
They would occasionally see the destroyer escorts move out and drop depth charges, but they weren’t involved in any real engagements on his trips. German subs in particular were a constant threat and always in their mind.
“The last thing anybody wanted was to take a torpedo,” Atchley said.
But the convoys he was with were fortunate and were not targeted, he said.
That stopped when they were told to head to southern England: They were going to offer support in the Allied assault on the beaches of Normandy.
“We saw 1,000 ships moving across the English Channel,” he remembered.
Their duty shifted from making the long trip across the Atlantic to carrying supplies across the Channel. Early on, they were sent to resupply battleships. Atchley said he could remember it clearly, because the battleship was still firing its big guns in support of the troops.
Even at that distance, they were taking fire from the shore and it was chaotic, but Atchley said he didn’t remember being scared.
Eventually, as the ground troops pushed inland, they were able to land at the beachheads to drop off supplies.
They weren’t supposed to get off the ships during those trips. Mostly they were too busy, and officers were also concerned about safety. One of Atchley’s friends defied that rule and paid a tragic price: He slipped away with some of the merchant marines but he stepped on a “bouncing Betty,” a gruesome sort of mine that propels an explosive into the air before it detonates and sprays shrapnel around the area.
The man died; he was the only casualty Atchley’s ship suffered at the time.
After that trip, Atchley was just about done with his duties, as it turned out. He had managed to make time to marry his sweetheart, Mary, on a trip home and he was soon back to stay and to build a life with her. By the time he’d been ordered to go to the Pacific, the war was winding down.
He said that throughout his time in the service, he couldn’t really remember being scared — from the trips across the Atlantic to resupplying jaunts during D-day, it was all more exciting than frightening. “I never did worry about a thing in the world,” he said. “I was too young, I guess.”
But as he’s had decades to reflect and look back, it’s not an adventure he’d be anxious to repeat.
“It was an experience,” he said. “I don’t think I’d want to go through it again.”
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 26 Mar 2012.
Upland Chronicles: Olive Latham enjoyed 37-year teaching career in Sevier County