G. Sam Piatt
August 24, 2009
For Judge John Bell Marshall, a Naval officer in World War II, most of the war went pretty smooth.
It wasnt until after the war was over, actually, away off there in the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea, that things got a little exciting for him and the complement of 23 officers and about 230 crew members on board the repair ship USS Adonis.
There was that one adventure, unique in that hardly anybody knew it was taking place, when six American LSTs (landing ship, tanks) carried Chiang Kai-sheks calvary men and horses inside the bellies on the tank decks of the ships as the Adonis, maintaining radio silence while keeping watch for mines, escorted them out of Shanghai north to engage the Communists.
Then, on the way back, there was that killer hurricane typhoon, whatever you want to call it the Adonis was walloped by in the East China Sea. Such storms had broken three destroyers in two. The Adonis, mountainous waves towering nearly 40 feet above its conning tower, might also have broken up if it hadnt managed to turn and go with the roaring wind instead of into it.
Marshall graduated from Warren G. Harding High School in Warren in 1940 and went off to Ohio Wesleyan University. He joined the U.S. Marines in Feb. 1942, while a sophomore. He was allowed to continue his work toward a degree under the militarys V-12 Program.
But America and its Allies were fighting on two fronts and needed all the manpower it could get.
On July 1, 1943, we were all called to active duty. I had just finished my junior year, Marshall said.
But for him there would be another year and a half of schooling and training before he would board a ship and get overseas.
I was sent to Oberlin College to complete radio science and other communications courses. There were 600 Marines and 600 Navy there to take courses. It was a $36,000 education the military offered. Five or six of us Marines joined the Navy Air Corps.
We went to Columbus to The Ohio State University airfield for 62 hours of flying time.
Then I went to Iowa to preflight school. In the mornings we had classes in communications and navigation. The afternoons were all physical training. We had wrestling, boxing,14-mile hikesthey set some kind of records for physical fitness training.
Then he was off to Notre Dame Midshipmens School, where he was eventually commissioned as an ensign.
Next it was Miami University for courses in sonar and more communications training.
Next he was off to Great Lakes Naval Base for gunnery school, firing big guns off into Lake Michigan.
I was getting tired of going to school, I can tell you that, he said.
Finally, though, in early 1945, he was ordered to report to a ship at Norfolk, Va. The USS Adonis (ARL-4) was one of 39 Achelous-class landing craft repair ships built for the United States Navy during World War II.
The 325-foot ship was originally laid down as an LST. It had had its bow doors welded shut and the tank deck turned into a huge machine shop.
The Adonis had seen duty on the Normandy beachhead in France. She had crossed the English Channel on June, 7, 1944, the day after D-Day. She arrived off Omaha Beach on the 8th and began providing repair services to damaged amphibious vessels. Rough seas made the work difficult, and the repair ship frequently changed her anchorage to avoid shellfire from enemy shore batteries.
Now, in 1945, the Adonis was still undergoing repairs herself when Marshall reported for duty as its assistant communications officer.
Was he ever really going to get to sea? he was asking himself.
After the overhaul of the vessel was completed, Marshall was on board as she conducted sea trials and exercises in the Chesapeake Bay. The ship made a run to Davisville, R.I. to take on a load of pontoons for bridge-building and sailed for the Pacific two days later. She locked through the Panama Canal and made her way up the West Coast to San Diego. He was saddened by an event happening while the whip was docked there.
I lost one of my men, he said. He was hit and killed by a car while crossing the street.
The ship unloaded the pontoons at Port Hueneme, Calif., and got under way for Hawaii and the Naval base at Pearl Harbor. The great, vast Pacific Ocean. At last, the young Naval officer from Warren, Ohio, was on the high seas.
While on Hawaii, the communications officer was transferred off ship and Marshall became new communications officer.
The ship set course for Guam, escorting half a dozen LCIs (Landing Craft, Infantry) carrying U.S. troops.
While en route to Guam, Marshall said he was on watch duty in the conning tower when the radioman came up and said he had just received a very strange message.
It said they had dropped a bomb the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Marshall said. I had just finished reading the novel, The War of the Worlds, and I remember thinking that this message sounded like fiction to me.
Guam, he discovered, was a beautiful, beautiful beach. There were Japanese soldiers still up in the hills who did not know that the war was over, but we had no incidents.
With the United States no longer at war, the ships captain and executive officer were transferred.
We had to have a new executive officer, and all the other officers said they wanted me. So I became executive officer of the Adonis for the remainder of my time on the ship.
Next came the orders to embark for Shanghai, where the Japanese had left much destruction. Internet reports on the Adonis activities here say only that the ship left Shanghai and visited the Chinese ports of Taku, Chinwangtao, Hulutao, and Tsingtao.
There were no news reports on our escorting Chiangs troops, riding in those LSTs, to the north for him to go ashore and continue his battle against the Communists, Marshall said.
We traveled under radio silence and blackout orders because there were still submarines all over the place.
Chiang Kai-shek had the support of the U.S. and Allied forces for the length of the war. But the U.S. government suspended aid to him for much of the period of 1946 to 1948, right in the midst of his fighting against the Peoples Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong. The U.S. had concerns about widespread corruption in Chiangs government and sympathies for the Chinese Communists.
Chiang and and his army was driven steadily back to the south by the Communist forces, leading to his eventual exile on Dec. 7, 1949, on the island of Taiwan. The United States, because of his anti-communist stance, continued to support and recognize his government, spending billions of dollars in economic and military aid.
Finally, though, in 1971, the United Nations expelled his regime and accepted the Communist government of China.
If we had supported Chiang Kai-shek in his fight against the communists, he would have beat them and we would have a far different China today, Marshall said.
When they were hit by the horrendous storm in the East China Sea, Marshall had a watch in the conning tower, which was 40 feet above the main deck, and the waves still reached about 40 feet above me, he said. We were heading into the waves, as we were supposed to, but had to risk turning in a trough and going with the wind. It was very risky. It was a very scary time.
Finally Marshalls life on the sea was over. The Adonis departed Tsingtao, China on April 25, 1946, and set a course for the west coast of the United States.
The flat-bottomed ship had a cruising speed of about 10 mph. Traveling the Great Circle route, through the Bearing Sea, it took three weeks to reach Astoria, Oregon, on May 18.
Everywhere we looked were whales, sea lions, seals, dolphins we had a beautiful wildlife show returning, Marshall said.
Lt. j.g. Marshall received his discharge later that month at Great Lakes.
The Adonis was decommissioned Oct. 11, 1946, and was assigned to the Columbia River Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, Portland.
Marshall returned to Warren and to Ohio Wesleyan to graduate. He attended Cincinnati Law School on the GI Bill, which paid his tuition and bought his books and gave him a stipend of $75 a month. He went summer and winter and graduated in two years, in 1949, with honors and as president of his class.
I came to Portsmouth to catch my breath, and wound up joining a law firm, he said.
In 1950 he caught Beverly Tierney. They are soon to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.
They have two sons and a daughter J.B. Marshall Jr., a Portsmouth attorney; Scioto County Common Pleas Judge William Tierney Marshall; and Rebecca Jane Smith, married to an artist and living in Wooster, Mass., off Cape Cod.
They have four granddaughters and two grandsons.
Marshall practiced law in Portsmouth for 20 years. In February 1969 Gov. James A. Rhodes appointed him as a judge in the Scioto County Common Pleas Court, a position he would serve well until his retirement in February 1991.
I served in the military for three years. Im glad I had the opportunity. It was a time of change in my life, and my memories of those days on the sea will always be with me, the judge said.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.