August 17, 2017
Died while serving on the DeTour Reef Light March 30, 1971
A brief ceremony will be held in Don Ashley’s honor on August 17, 2017, at the DeTour Reef Light Historical Marker at Hot Dog Stand Beach on M-134 approximately 5 miles west of DeTour Village.
If you are unable to attend, we ask everyone to honor Don Ashley, Jr. and all of his USCG mates by remembering them in your thoughts or prayers on August 17th.
As told by his brother, Michael Ashley: The winter of 1970-71 was extremely cold, producing significant ice which led to a late opening of the shipping season. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) commander was anxious to get the system ‘up and running’ as the weather had caused the opening to be “delayed twice already.” Three Coast Guardsmen departed DeTour Village Harbor in a 16-foot tender with limited supplies. The ice was breaking up, but they reached their destination safely, scaled the ladder 20+ feet to the platform, and chipped the winter accumulation of ice off the entry door to the tower. They entered the structure and started the power generator to initiate another season of manning and running the DeTour Reef Light.
Don Ashley volunteered to go back to DeTour Harbor by himself for more supplies and to pick up another crew member. On his way, the tender was caught between ice flows and capsized. Don was thrown into the water. His two fellow USCG mates heard his distress call and watched him make progress towards the lighthouse while swimming for about 20 minutes. They witnessed a large wave wash over him and Don never resurfaced.
The Drummond Island Ferry answered the emergency call to no avail. A USCG helicopter was dispatched with divers, but it was judged too dangerous to search for his body at that time due to ‘conditions’. Don Ashley’s remains were never recovered.
The date was March 30, 1971. He was 22 years old. His tour of duty with USCG began in 1969.
Due to the ongoing stretch of harsh weather and significant ice conditions, there was no river traffic for the next 14 days.
His family is very pleased that the DeTour Reef Light Perservation Society is installing a memorial plaque at DeTour Reef Light in his honor. A private ceremony with his family will be held on the Light when the plaque is installed.