In Memoriam: Petty Officer Joseph Ashley, MM2

 
USS San Francisco

The USS San Francisco in drydock, 2005, with MM2 Joseph Ashley.

The USS San Francisco left its port in Guam for a much-anticipated cruise to Australia. Following months of boring repairs, the crew was ready for the 3,000-mile trip and already planning what to do in Brisbane once they arrived. Since 2002, the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack sub had been stationed on the western Pacific island allowing more frequent trips to foreign ports instead of its less eventful patrols around Pearl Harbor.

Referring to an old chart of the ocean floor, the navigation officer sped up to 33 knots and dove to 525 feet in preparation for a series of drills. Then, without warning, the San Francisco slammed into an uncharted seamount.

The sudden shock threw bodies and equipment flying through the sub, leaving several crewmembers injured and bloody with a few lying unconscious. With the sub’s nose crushed and pointing toward the 6,000-foot-deep ocean floor, the officer ordered an emergency blow, pushing air through the ballasts to force the sub to the surface. But nothing happened.

Ten seconds passed, then half a minute. The crew thought their boat, and their lives, were lost. It took nearly a minute before the San Francisco slowly, painfully began to rise. Several minutes later, it was bobbing on the surface and the crew tended to the wounded and the sub herself.

When the seamount was hit, Machinist Mate Joseph Ashley was at the aft of the sub, having a quick smoke before his six-hour shift began maintaining the emergency diesel engines for the massive craft. “Cooter,” as his shipmates nicknamed him, was a proud country boy from Ohio who was popular for his great sense of humor and ever-present smile.

The impact sent Petty Officer Ashley flying 20 feet into the sub’s array of immovable metal equipment. When crewmembers saw what happened, one sailor held his hand while another called for the only medic onboard.

The corpsman set up a makeshift doctor’s office in the boat’s largest open space, the enlisted mess. In between stitching up the rest of the crew’s lacerations, he monitored the critically injured Petty Officer Ashley and administered oxygen and morphine. The medic knew he wouldn’t survive unless he got him off the sub, but help was very far away.

Seventeen hours later, a Coast Guard cutter arrived, but the sea was far too choppy to transport Petty Officer Ashley. A larger ship came soon after and sent a helicopter to airlift him out. After a few failed attempts, the young mechanic’s heart stopped. It was too late.

“(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.”

…”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.”

I had the honor of serving on the San Francisco in happier times, when she was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Considering the damage to the boat, I remain shocked that only one crewmember lost his life in the incident.

This Memorial Day, when we honor the many brave men and women who gave their lives on the battlefield, let’s also remember those who sacrificed all in less violent theaters. Thank you, Petty Officer Ashley, for serving our nation and doing your part in keeping us free.

There are 18 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    Thanks Jon, for the reminder of how lucky I am that men such as Joseph Ashley (and you) take the risks that I cannot take, and do so willingly.

    An awful reminder.  But thank you.

    • #1
  2. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Marvelous Jon. I love this tribute from Commander Mooney:

    “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.”

    MM Ashley must have been quite a man.

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Thank you. Thank you for the service.

    • #3
  4. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Thank you, Petty Officer Ashley, for serving our nation and doing your part in keeping us free.

    Thank you for this memorial of a good man.

    • #4
  5. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    The military is an inherently dangerous occupation, no matter when.

    • #5
  6. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    “Referring to an old chart of the ocean floor, the navigation officer sped up to 33 knots and dove to 525 feet in preparation for a series of drills. Then, without warning, the San Francisco slammed into an uncharted seamount.”

    Was there so forward facing sonar?

    Thank you for your service, Jon, and prayers, thanks for Petty Office Ashley.

    • #6
  7. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Doctor Robert:“Referring to an old chart of the ocean floor, the navigation officer sped up to 33 knots and dove to 525 feet in preparation for a series of drills. Then, without warning, the San Francisco slammed into an uncharted seamount.”

    Was there so forward facing sonar?

    Thank you for your service, Jon, and prayers, thanks for Petty Office Ashley.

    There was, but modern subs usually use passive sonar (listening) rather than active sonar (pinging).

    • #7
  8. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A terrific post, Jon. Bless you for your service, and remembering the submariners who did not return.

    • #8
  9. Sailor1986 Member
    Sailor1986
    @Sailor1986

    Thanks, Jon, for reminding us all of MM2 Ashley and his sacrifice for the Nation.  We rightfully praise those who fall in open combat with enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, but there are other heroes among us.  As a Surface bubba I have nothing but respect for the Silent Service.  What an adrenaline buzz to sail–pretty well blind–at 33 knots under the waves in a billion-dollar missile powered by a nuclear reactor.  NASCAR can’t hold a candle to it!  That thrill, the camaraderie of service in uniform, and the tight bond of a SSN crew no doubt made life special for MM2.  ‘Tis sad, but not tragic:  he likely died doing what he loved to do, where he wanted to be, defending his kith and kin.  A noble death.  God bless and keep him and his family.

    • #9
  10. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Only the hand of God and a dedicated crew kept that from being a more devastating catastrophe.

    Fair winds and following seas Machinist Mate 2nd and Thank You for your service and sacrifice.

    • #10
  11. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    This Memorial Day, when we honor the many brave men and women who gave their lives on the battlefield, let’s also remember those who sacrificed all in less violent theaters. Thank you, Petty Officer Ashley, for serving our nation and doing your part in keeping us free.

    Indeed. Thanks, Jon.

    • #11
  12. Stephen Dawson Inactive
    Stephen Dawson
    @StephenDawson

    Golly, you guys know how to build a tough submarine. It drives into a mountain at 38 miles per hour and despite the 250psi of pressure (nearly 17 atmospheres!) it manages to surface. Incredible.

    • #12
  13. Mr Nick Member
    Mr Nick
    @MrNick

    Chris Campion:Thanks Jon, for the reminder of how lucky I am that men such as Joseph Ashley (and you) take the risks that I cannot take, and do so willingly.

    An awful reminder. But thank you.

    Amen.

    • #13
  14. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Thanks for the memorial.

    • #14
  15. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    silver dolphins

    Lost Harbor

    by Leslie Nelson Jennings

    There is a port of no return, where ships

    May ride at anchor for a little space

    And then, some starless night, the cable slips,

    Leaving an eddy at the mooring place . . .

    Gulls, veer no longer. Sailor, rest your oar.

    No tangled wreckage will be washed ashore.

    • #15
  16. The Pimpernel Inactive
    The Pimpernel
    @ThePimpernel

    Stephen Dawson: Golly, you guys know how to build a tough submarine. It drives into a mountain at 38 miles per hour and despite the 250psi of pressure (nearly 17 atmospheres!) it manages to surface. Incredible.

    I’m a little late to this party but as for survivability of a boat or ship, it usually comes down to training. A well constructed vessel and a poorly trained crew will give you some thing like the Costa Concordia whose hull damage was nowhere near catastrophic and should have been able to reach port with assistance versus listing until it sank.

    I was deployed in the area, and did the initial reporting for our battle group, of the USS Cole when it was bombed below the waterline while much of the crew was in the mess adjacent to the blast sight. The Cole remained not only afloat but fightable thanks to a well trained and motivated crew. This was a hostile act. The flippin retreads on the Concordia had not only a much larger response force but the hull damage was spread over a much larger mass and no one trying to kill you while doing damage control and they still lost the ship.  If the San Fran. crew had the mentality and training of every cruise ship in the world the boat would have been lost below.

    • #16
  17. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Great post Jon.  From one submariner to another, thanks.

    • #17
  18. Tonguetied Fred Member
    Tonguetied Fred
    @TonguetiedFred

    Dang, that would have been hairy, I can picture them trying to get an up angle on the bow planes and driving for the surface and praying they make it.

    I read that in addition to the Captain being relieved that 6 others were convicted at Captain’s Mast.  I wonder if the crew felt that they were the sacrificial lambs or if felt their punishments were justified?   It strikes me as a tragic accident.   I’m sure the navigator was using an official chart supplied to the boat by the Navy so the fault was in the chart not in the actions of the crew…

    • #18

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.