ASHLAND, Ky. – An obituary in Friday’s Ashland newspaper may have caught your attention because of the photograph with it.
It was a photo of Paul DeHart Sr. in his fighter pilot uniform from his days in World War II. Mr. DeHart was a member of the Greatest Generation and played on Ashland’s 1942 undefeated football team that claimed itself as state champion.
The Tomcats defeated previously undefeated Louisville Manuel 7-6 in a showdown of unbeatens in the ninth game of the season as J.C. Kennard zigged and zagged his way for a touchdown on a the second-half kickoff return and Jim Stith kicked the winning extra point. Ashland clobbered Russell 70-0 to finish the perfect season since there were no playoffs.
It was seven years ago that I was fortunate enough to speak on the telephone for an hour with Mr. DeHart, who was visiting with Mr. Kennard, a Tomcat and Marine teammate. He joined the Marines the year after Mr. DeHart and they had a special reunion in Columbus with their sons of the same name in May 2013.
Mr. DeHart died at the age of 95 but what a life he led. He was also the oldest living Tomcat. I call him Mr. DeHart out of complete respect for what he did in serving our country. He was in the service for 33 months, including the last battle at Okinawa. Before he was a military hero, he was a Tomcat hero, playing halfback on a “scrawny, scrappy team” that went undefeated.
He played his junior season at Ashland, when the Tomcats went 10-0 in 1942. The following spring, on May 8, 1943, Mr. DeHart joined the Marines after turning 18. Another classmate and teammate, Vernon Dessinger, did the same thing. John McGill, a former sports editor at the Ashland Daily Independent, wrote about the departure of these two great players and put it under a banner headline in the sports section. Both would have been eligible to play in 1943, so the country’s gain would be the Tomcats’ loss.
Tomcat coach Charles Ramey, who also left for the Marines following the 1942 season and had a highly decorated military career, had hoped DeHart and Dessinger could have their deployments delayed and play that fall at Ashland High School.
But the war was already calling their names, as it did so many of that day. Mr. DeHart was stationed at Pearl Harbor for a time after the Japanese attack. Before he went overseas and while in basic training in California, he was involved in two accidents on back-to-back weekends. They were both traumatic, he said, but neither life-threatening. Eventually he saw action in the Pacific Theater as a turret gunner on a Grumman TBF Avenger and served his country with pride. By doing that, he also did his hometown of Ashland proud.
He is listed as a graduate of Ashland Senior High School and graduated from Ashland Junior College in 1948 before embarking on a 38-year career at Ashland Oil, Inc.. He and wife Bettie retired to Port Charlotte, Florida, where he lived for 27 years. He was ordained as a deacon by the First Baptist Church at Punta Gorda, Florida, in 1988 and served the Lord faithfully.
Here is one last salute to Mr. DeHart and other members of “The Greatest Generation.” Thank you for your service. You are not forgotten.