|The first time I met Jim Ash was when I reported aboard in La Maddelina. I'd actually been designated as a
member of the T2 crew sometime earlier, but had to miss ship's movement out of Groton to attend to a death in
the family. For the next couple months they flew me all over half of Europe to catch up with her. For the first time
ever, the Tullibee was faster than an airplane, and stealthily evaded us. When we finally caught up, Jim Ash was
my very first supervisor.
Jim was a big man. Wide of girth but solid. His head was round with a shiny dome fringed in salt and pepper. He
had huge brown eyes that could look as sweet as a doe's, or as mean as a snake's - depending on his mood. He
had thick, meaty paws at the end of strong, hairy arms. He was a classic Torpedoman. I, on the other hand, was
not. I was 17. Five-feet, seven-inches tall. I weighed about 120 lbs. His first words to me were - "Looks like
you're going to fit in here just fine." That first day TM1 Ash took me below to meet my fellow Torpedomen. A TM2
named Foster (Mark, I believe). The legendary Tom "Rookie" Grove, then a TM3. I believe there was an FT
named Winchester, something like that. Jim was really nice to me, told me to relax, showed me where my bunk
was (actually, my bunk was at that moment a Torpedo. He explained to me how my rack would sit right there as
soon as we got underway.) I thought, "This won't be so bad." Then, my second day started. I went from "new guy"
to "Non-qual Puke" overnight. No more nice TM1 Ash. He rode me constantly. I had to report to him hourly to let
him know my progress, show him my qual card, and ask him if I could eat or sleep. He said no. I could eat and
sleep when I got qualified. He told me that if I "Dinked Out" or became delinquent in my Qauls, he would kill me
and eat me...raw. I believed him.
For the next few months I was his personal slave. When he wanted coffee, I had to get it for him. Two scoops of
sugar - stirred exactly 21 times to the left, 21 times to the right. I was in the shower once. Taking a quick break
from the routine. I got all soaped up and "Bam!" The curtain flies back. Jim Ash is standing there mad as hell
that I wasn't working on my quals. He literally reached in the shower, grabbed me by the pecker, and dragged me
through the boat "introducing" me and telling everyone I was more concerned with washing my skinny body than
working on my quals. After yanking me around like a pull-toy for 20 minutes, I was dry. I got dressed and went to
Another time he caught me reading my bible. I did that on occasion. He took it from me, looked it over, then gave
it back. Then he said "Does God sign your Qual Card?" I said "no." Then I went back to work.
Another of his favorite pastimes was to slug me as hard as he could in the upper arm to see how far I could fly. He
would call guys over to the Muzzle Doors and tell them "Watch this!" and then pop me. He used to shut me up in
the torpedo tube and close the muzzle door, then pump 50lb vent air into it. He loved the way I could turn around
inside that 21 inch tube and bang on the muzzle door. "Do that again" he'd say, and slam the door again.
Did I hate him? Was he cruel? No, just the opposite. He was one of the nicest guys I ever met. Sure, my last
paragraph would seem to paint him in a different light, but he was like a father to me. He rode me because he
wanted me to succeed. He knew I had some natural handicaps like being 17 and trying to live in a man's world.
He nurtured me as often as he smacked me. I never had to worry about anyone else going after me or making my
life rough. If you messed with "The Whimp" (me) you messed with Jim Ash. Nobody messed with Jim Ash.
I never had to worry about money. When we pulled into port he never went on liberty. He just stayed behind,
telling me and others "I got a wife and kids to support." He would lend guys money. 20 for 30 or 30 for 50. He
gave me money and wouldn't let me pay it back.
I got my Quals done in a year because he cared enough to make sure I did it. He was the kind of guy who would
come into the crews mess and sit next to me, put his arm around my shoulder and squeeze, then move on and not
say a word.
Back in Groton, he would invite me to stay at his house. I would baby-sit his two boys and earn some spending
money while he and his wife went out. He took me hunting birds and every weekend we would drive north to this
place called Foxwood to shoot skeet. He was so proud of me when I would shoot 25 out of 25. Then I'd watch him
shoot 100 out of 100. He gave me a beautiful over-under shotgun for my 19th birthday. It was one of my prize
possessions till it was stolen some years later.
And then, I disappointed him. I met a girl, had a baby, and went AWOL. It was a long story, but I was faced with a
choice of losing my baby or staying in the Navy. It broke his heart. I remember him coming to my Captain's Mast
when I got busted. He had tears in his eyes and couldn't speak to me. I was devastated. He knew the mistake I
was making, but I was too young and dumb to realize it myself. I moved back to Michigan and lost touch with him.
A few years later, the baby and girl gone anyway, I started feeling guilty. Not for what I had done to the Navy, but
for what I had done to guys like Jim Ash and Rookie Grove. I tried to get back in but the Navy wouldn't take me. I
ended up in the Army.
I thought of Jim Ash many times over the years. Everytime I accomplished something I would think "I wish Jim
could see me now. He'd be proud." When I went Airborne I thought of him when they pinned my jump wings on
my chest. When I went Air Assault and learned the art of combat rappelling, earning my second set of wings, I
thought of him. I thought of him when I led an Infantry Squad through the jungles of Panama. I thought of him
when I made E-6, E-7, NCO of the Year, Army Instructor of the Year. He was with me many times, and never even
Finally, over twenty years since we last spoke, I decided to look him up. I got on the internet but no luck. Then, I
found Rookie Grove, who'd just retired, and I wrote him a long letter telling them I never forgot them both. I asked
Rookie to find Jim Ash and let him know. Rookie called me soon after I sent the letter. He was glad to hear from
me, and it was amazing how the memories didn't fade. Then he told me Jim Ash had cancer. He was doing badly.
Rookie met with him and read Jim my letter. By this time Jim could no longer speak. Rookie told me that Jim
smiled and squeezed his hand. Rookie told me Jim was proud of me, and I hung up the phone and cried.
It was odd, but after all those years, I felt I had come home. I felt I had finally made up for the mistakes I made
when I was 20 years old. I hadn't spoke to Jim Ash for over 20 years, but his approval still meant everything to
me. I kept in contact with Rookie, and as Jim drew closer toward death, we made a pact to meet at his funeral.
When he died, me and fellow shipmate Ed Koskie drove from Michigan and Minnesota and stayed at Rookie's
house with him and Tina. I went to the funeral in my Class A's. Jim Ash was that kind of guy. The kind of guy you
never forget. I still have a brass shell casing from the twenty-one gun salute that his honor guard fired at his
funeral. I know he's still watching me while on Eternal Patrol. I will continue to think of him everytime I accomplish
something, and I know he would be proud.
Sergeant First Class David Dunckel
Fort Knox, KY
|Tullibee Veteran Jim Ash, 56,
departed on Eternal Patrol on Sept. 29, 1999.
He served aboard the USS Tullibee as a TMCS(SS)
during the mid 1970s.
d. Sept. 29, 1999
|Jim Ash was a very well respected man during his days aboard the USS Tullibee.
At the Tullibee reunion back on August 10th, 2002, many Tullibee Veterans mentioned his name and called
him one of the finest men with whom they have ever had the pleasure to serve.