For Gunner’s Mate Third Class Robert Ashman, a recent burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the destroyer Winston S. Churchill went beyond honoring sailors who came before him.
In a coincidental twist, Ashman ended up laying the ashes of his great-grandfather, Chief Signalman James Mitchell, to rest in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a Navy release.
“It was a huge coincidence that I ended up going on deployment on the same ship that was carrying his remains,” he said.
Ashman said he saw the list of names for burial-at-sea and initially thought it must have been another James Mitchell.
“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,” he said.
Churchill sailors lined the deck on April 23 for the ceremony that laid to rest the World War II veteran Mitchell and other late sailors.
During the ceremony, two bells were struck, and the master of ceremonies announced, “Chief Signalman James Mitchell, departing.”
Flanked by saluting sailors, Ashman walked his great-grandfather’s remains down the aisle and to chaplain, who placed them in the sea.
For Ashman, taking part in his great-grandfather’s burial-at-sea was a no-brainer.
Ashman’s father was in the Navy as well, and he said he joined to carry on the family tradition.
He is assigned to the carrier Gerald R. Ford, and was only temporarily assigned to the Churchill.
“I loved my great grandfather to the moon and back,” he said. “In a way, it felt like it was meant to be.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.