ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- On the morning of Veteran’s Day, after the daily routine of breakfast and muster, Sailors aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) donned their dress blue uniforms, and prepared to give a final Navy fare well to 30 shipmates and family members.
For Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Robert Ashman, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, assigned to Ford’s weapons department, wearing his service dress blue uniform had an added significance on this particular day.
As Sailors reflected on and honored the lives of the brave men and women who have served before us, Ashman payed special respects to Chief Hull Maintenance Technician Dean Curtis Ashman, his grandfather, who was laid to rest during the first burial at sea ceremony aboard Ford.
“I lived with ‘Pop’, in Virginia Beach until around age 18. After he served in the Navy, he started working with wood in the garage making various things,” said Ashman, a fourth generation Sailor. “After I joined the Navy, when I came home to visit I was greeted as a brother and not just a grandson. We would spend time together in his shop. We would talk about what it would be like when I went underway.”
According to his obituary, Ashman’s grandfather passed away Dec. 23, 2016. He retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer and went to college at Old Dominion University where he became an educator. He then had a second career as a teacher at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. for 20 years.
“Unfortunately, since his passing, he didn’t get to see me go on deployment last year. He won’t get to see my pictures and hear my stories, but I know that he was there with me,” said Ashman.
This is the second time that Ashman has buried a family member at sea; the first was by pure coincidence. In 2018, while temporarily assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) from Ford, Ashman was asked to participate in his first burial-at-sea ceremony. After reading the name, “Chief Signalman James Mitchell,” he later confirmed those to be the remains of his great-grandfather.
“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 felt like it was meant to be,” said Ashman.
“With my grandfather, it has been a long time coming until Ford left the shipyard and we could give him a proper burial-at-sea.”
Ashman said that being able to do this burial at sea, for a second time, will bring more respect to his family and means even more that it’s on Veterans Day.
“I feel like he’s always with me, like with my great-grandfather, up above watching what I’m doing,” said Ashman. “Where I’m from, they say that cardinals are loved ones that come back to watch over you and every time I visit home, there is always a cardinal out back somewhere. I’ve got two very large pairs of boots to fill and I’m doing my best every day to fulfill that responsibility.”
Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier and the first new aircraft carrier designed in more than 40 years. Ford is currently underway conducting testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
For more news from USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn78/.