Saturday, January 15, 2005

Shipmates honor sailor

Friday, January 14, 2005
By Theresa Merto
Pacific Daily News

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Navy

(Story Link with photos)

Sailors paid tribute in a memorial service yesterday for Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley, who died of injuries from the submarine USS San Francisco's recent accident.

During a last man roll call yesterday, all the sailors in the Auxiliary Division of the Engineering Department were present -- except Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley.

The "brotherhood," as many submariners call it, gathered yesterday at a memorial service for Ashley, who died from injuries suffered when the nuclear-powered submarine USS San Francisco ran aground Jan. 8 about 350 nautical miles south of Guam.

Ashley, 24, of Akron, Ohio, was known as a great shipmate who loved submarines, and most especially the USS San Francisco, where he belonged for nearly three years and where he lost his life. A Navy official has said the submarine struck a topographical feature underwater and the investigation into the accident continues.

"(Ashley) dedicated himself to San Francisco, our Navy and our great country. By so doing, he earned the love, honor, trust and respect of his shipmates," Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, commanding officer of the USS San Francisco, said in a release. "Although our hearts ache and we miss him, we thank God for the time together. We also thank Petty Officer Ashley's family for sharing their son and brother with us."

Mooney further highlighted Ashley's positive impact on the crew.

"He was my shipmate, my friend and a great submariner. ... He loved his job and life in the Navy so much," Mooney said. "Not only was Petty Officer Ashley happy all the time, he made it his personal business to make sure all his shipmates were happy, including me."

Lt. j.g. Josh Chisholm, who is a chemistry/radiological assistant, said Ashley was a great sailor who "loved submarines and being on the San Francisco, through and through."

"He always brought a smile to everybody's face when he was around," Chisholm said, adding that Ashley always had a positive, upbeat attitude.

"For us, he was somebody we knew we could trust," said Chisholm, who was interviewed after the memorial service. "We knew he would do the right thing in terms of when he was standing watch."

Four sailors from USS San Francisco, along with sailors from Submarine Squadron 15, will escort Ashley's body off island . He will be laid to rest in West Virginia, said Master Chief Petty Officer Bill Cramer, who is the chief of boat on the San Francisco.

"He was one of those guys who was ready to make the Navy and the submarine force a lifelong career because of the tightness. It is like a brotherhood as we refer to it," Cramer said. "We were very close to him -- everybody on board."

Ashley was in charge of the submarine's emergency diesel on board and took great pride in that, Cramer said.

"In our most recent engineering exam, he got the highest grade that someone would get," Cramer said. "He took pride in everything he did ... and was always willing to learn more."

Cramer said the crew has sought some counseling after returning to Guam earlier this week, adding that the experience has been traumatic. He said 23 sailors were brought to Naval Hospital on Monday, and all but three were released the night they were brought there. By Wednesday, the remaining sailors were released from the hospital.

"Most of my sailors, the very next day, were mustering with me on the pier -- which wasn't required -- but they were ready to get back to work," Cramer said. "A lot of the guys that were getting out of the Navy have said, 'the San Francisco brought me home from that, I'm gonna stick around until (it's) seaworthy again."

Ashley enlisted in the Navy in 2001 and reported to USS San Francisco as a machinist's mate in February 2002, according to a Navy release. While serving aboard the Los Angeles-class, fast-attack submarine, he was selected Junior Sailor of the Quarter for the third quarter of 2004, the release said.

Chisholm said since the grounding, the sailors have been relying on each other and their families for support and do not second-guess getting back on the submarine despite the accident.

"We've been through such a difficult situation with the grounding," Chisholm said. "But I think most of us, if it went back to sea today, would go right back and operate that ship, mainly because we've got all of each other there."