Howard John Ashford, 57, a career Foreign Service officer for 30 years before his retirement in 1978 and a combat veteran of World War II, died of cardiac arrest Tuesday at a hospital in Carlisle, Pa.

Mr. Ashford served at diplomatic posts in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Turkey. During his apporximately 15 years in Washington, he was assigned to the Defense Department and the Foreign Service's Inspection Corps and Board of Examiners. He also was assigned to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. His last assignment was a political adviser to the commanding general of the U.S. Army European Command in Heidelberg, Germany.

He was born in Lockport, N.Y., and graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania after serving in the Army in Europe in World War II. A former resident of Washington and alexandria, he moved to Carlisle after retiring.

Surviors include his wife, the former Virginia Allen of Carlisle; his mother, Doris Ashford of Jamestown, N.Y.; and a brother, Doughlas of Ithaca, N.Y.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Samaritan Fund, P. O. Box 495, Carlisle, Pa.