Coast Guard honors seaman who lost his life 46 years ago

SAULT STE. MARIE — A U.S. Coast Guardsman who lost his life more than 46 years ago while serving at the DeTour Reef Lighthouse in Upper Michigan, was honored and remembered by members of area Coast Guard units and the DeTour Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society during a ceremony in DeTour Village, Michigan, Thursday.

Seaman Don Ashley Jr., 22, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, was making a trip on March 30, 1971 from the DeTour Reef Lighthouse to DeTour Village, Michigan to retrieve supplies and another Coast Guardsman when his 16-foot boat capsized in icy conditions. A large wave washed over Ashley and he never resurfaced.

The Lighthouse had just opened for the season and a spare boat was not yet available to rescue him. His remains were never recovered. He is the only Coast Guardsman to lose his life while serving on the DeTour Reef Light Station.

Ashley’s siblings, Michael Ashley and Linda Ashley VandenHeuvel, traveled from Wisconsin to attend the ceremony, organized by Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie and the Preservation Society, and accepted a plaque of remembrance of their brother. The plaque will be permanently affixed to the DeTour Reef Lighthouse.

“The Coast Guard men and women assembled today continue to stand the watch that Don so bravely stood nearly fifty years ago,” said Capt. Marko Broz, commander, Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie. “Michael and Susan, your brother died in the service of our Nation and while doing his best to protect those mariners who ply these beautiful, but unforgiving waters. We are proud to follow in his footsteps and strive to uphold the standards he set for us.”

Broz, along with Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Roach, U.S. Navy chaplain, and the crews of the Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn and Aids to Navigation Team Sault Ste. Marie, were in attendance to remember Ashley’s the sacrifice.

The DeTour Village Community Choir was also in attendance and sang the National Anthem and a powerful rendition of the Coast Guard anthem, “Semper Paratus.”

For more information on Seaman Don Ashley and the DeTour Reef Light, contact the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society at (906) 493-6609, or at