Originally created 06/27/04

Ship's 50th reunion celebrates crewman



Bob Richards is a humble man. So when a group of his shipmates chose to honor him at the 50th annual reunion of the USS Ashtabula crew, he was genuinely surprised.

But the reunion members felt the honors bestowed on Mr. Richards were not only well deserved, but due.

"He's the one that has held the glue that's kept us together," said Walter "Grom" Carroll, who drove from Rock Hill, S.C., with his wife, Lee.

Mr. Carroll joined Mr. Richards and other men who once served on the Navy fuel tanker ship Ashtabula for the reunion.

The event travels to various parts of the country each year, and Saturday night made a figurative docking at the Ramada Plaza on Broad Street.

The first reunion was held on Labor Day 1955 at a now-defunct hotel on Deans Bridge Road. The idea was conceived by Mr. Richards and two other sailors who thought it was important to continue Ashtabula's legacy.

Although he's now 75 and has some health problems, Mr. Richards still carries the vigor that earned him the nickname "Red Dawg" when he joined the Navy in 1950 as a green, redheaded, south Augusta youngster.

The 1946 graduate of the Academy of Richmond County High School said he has enjoyed keeping the alumni group of Ashtabula sailors intact.

The ship served from 1943 to 1982, he said, and was in service from World War II through the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"She was a very active lady," he said.

Mr. Richards, along with his wife, Mary Frances Richards, has been instrumental in keeping in touch with his Ashtabula shipmates, regardless of their age or rank.

Robert Capelette made the trek from Tucson, Ariz., with his wife, Marilyn. Mr. Capelette said he is appreciative of Mr. Richard's dedication.

"If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be together. He more than deserves tonight's honor," said Mr. Capelette, who served on the ship from 1952 to 1955. Ashtabula was decommissioned in 1982 and destroyed in October 2000, Mr. Richards said.

On Saturday, the group paid homage to 58 of its deceased sailors, three more than a year ago at last year's event in Atlanta. The group travels to San Diego next year and Kansas City, Mo., in 2006.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.