WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — One veteran remembers using antennas and satellites to pinpoint locations on a Navy ship far before what we now know as GPS.
Retired Chief Petty Officer Doug Ashley said he didn’t want to learn to walk for a living or get shot at all the time, so he didn’t choose the Marines over Army. Also, he never wanted to be in an airplane he might have to jump out of, so the Air Force was not for him.
Ashley said he could swim, so he chose the Navy. Navy boot camp seemed like the safest bet in 1954 when Ashley enlisted.
“I put myself in even worse condition than a minefield,” he said.
The sailors were on a minesweeper off the shore of Vietnam. As a mechanic, Ashley spent a lot of time below deck. But he said they always went on deck when sweeping for mines.
“That way, you weren’t plastered to the ceiling,” he said. “If you hit a mine, so we were all topside.”
The minesweeper was just over half the length of a football field and 40-feet wide. It also had a thick, wooden hull on it.
“So that way, if we got struck by a mine, we had something to float on,” Ashley said, laughing about it.
He said they were sweeping in shallow water, and the ship could float in just ten feet. Their job was to clear the way so that troops could get to the shore for war.
“We sweep mines, blow them up, make it safe for the landing parties to go in,” Ashley said.
He spent nearly three years in Vietnam before he got out of the Navy.
“I went back to my recruiter and said, ‘What are the chances of me getting back in?” Ashley said. “He said, ‘No problem.'”
He saw many assignments throughout his Navy career. For a time, he was with a ferry squadron that would pick up and repair planes. He was also stationed on the Aleutian Islands.
“We listened, and we would have an array that showed markings, as cells would come through,” Ashley said.
Ashley said their job was to pay close attention to what was below the ocean’s surface.
“They were so good at it, they could tell you who the captain of the ship was, so they knew where the ship came from,” Ashley said.
He really enjoyed his time at the Naval Reserve Center, where he trained recruits. He said they worked on everything from Seabee exercises to flying and diving.
“I had an idea of what goes on with every profession throughout the Navy, so that way I could help out anybody that I needed to,” Ashley said.
He also worked with a surveying group. They would launch boats from the ship, so they could look at and analyze the coral reef.
Ashley said a UNITAS tour will always be one of his fondest memories.
“It was a cruise to show the American flag, promote goodwill,” he said.
The USS Dewey traveled to 36 ports.
“Pulled in, put the brow over, had open house so people could come in and talk to us,” Ashley said. “We stood on the decks out there in uniform.”
He said it also meant so much their families were invited onboard. He said they would host barbecue dinners on the ship to show their families around the ship.
“I got to take my son down into the berthing department and let him see how I sleep on board, when you sleep three high down there, in a space this high,” Ashley said, motioning to the ceiling.
He earned Sailor of the Quarter several times and other accolades along the way. Just before they deployed on his final cruise, his wife got a very special letter.
“She got a letter of appreciation from the commanding officer of the ship that I was on,” Ashley said.
He said the appreciation letter for his wife meant more to him than the medals and awards he earned.
“They recognized the sacrifice that the families made,” Ashley said.
He served for more than 20 years in the Navy, and during that time, he served more than just the military. He said they would go on special assignments at orphanages when they pulled into ports.
“Doing repair work, having lunch with the kids and then playing with them,” Ashley said.
He saw so much culture and achieved his goal of seeing the world from a ship.
“Went down to Panama, went through the Panama Canal,” Ashley said.
He also made several trips across the equator. The first time sailors cross the equator, they earn the title of shellback. But it often comes with an initiation ceremony.
“I am practicing for the beauty contest,” Ashley said, pointing to a picture of himself in costume.
You read that right. He had to participate in a beauty contest for his initiation, but he always knew his turn would come.
“You also think I get to dish it out next time,” Ashley said.
He cherishes the memories he made with the guys and is so thankful he decided to go to Navy boot camp.
He’s also glad he got back in the Navy and that he stayed for an entire career, retiring as a chief petty officer.
Ashley said he spent 20 years, two months and 28 days in the Navy. The day he retired, he got a call from the City of Wichita. He took the mechanic skills he gained in the military and worked for Wichita for 20 years.
Ashley and his wife have been married for 45 years. They have two children who are their pride and joy.