By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Evan Thompson, USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) Public Affairs
As the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) transited the calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Sailors in dress blue uniforms lined the ship’s flight deck and prepared to honor service members that came before them, April 23, 2018.
World War II veteran Chief Signalman James Mitchell was among those honored. For Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Robert Ashman, temporarily assigned to Winston S. Churchill from the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), honoring Mitchell meant more than participating in a Navy tradition - it was paying respects to his great grandfather.
Ashman was born in Waukegan, Illinois, but due to his father being in the Navy, moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, shortly after. He joined the Navy in February 2015, and after attending advanced technical training and “A” school to become a gunner’s mate, he reported to Ford shortly before its commissioning.
For Ashman, joining the Navy wasn’t only about serving his country; it was about continuing down the path that had been started three generations before him when his great grandfather joined.
“The Navy became a tradition in my family when my father joined and became a third-generation Sailor,” said Ashman. “I knew I wanted to continue that from pretty early on.”
When Ashman boarded Churchill for deployment, he had no idea the ship would be committing his great grandfather’s remains to the sea a few weeks later.
“I saw the list of names of the people we were going to be burying at sea, I saw the name ‘James Mitchell,’ and I thought it was a coincidence,” said Ashman. “Then I saw his rate was the same as my great grandfather—chief signalman—and shortly after my dad messaged me and confirmed they were really his ashes.”
Ashman said when he was asked to take part in the ceremony, it felt like the right thing to do.
“I loved my great grandfather to the moon and back,” said Ashman. “It was a huge coincidence that I ended up going on deployment on the same ship that was carrying his remains and in a way it felt like it was meant to be.”
Ashman stood at the end of a long red carpet lain on the flight deck, lined with Sailors in dress blues on each side, with his great grandfather’s urn in hand. Opposite Ashman stood the ship’s chaplain, ready to receive the remains and commit them to the sea. Two bells were struck on the ship’s bell. Over the speakers, the master of ceremonies’ voice is heard: “Chief Signalman James Mitchell, departing.” As the boatswain’s mate began to pipe, the Sailors lining the sides produced crisp salutes and Ashman walked down the aisle. Ashman stood at attention and watched as the chaplain took the remains, now covered in an American flag, and deposited them in the calm Mediterranean water.
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