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Page 44
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<< 43. Michael Gold (1946-2022): Intrepid Veterans Advocate45. Vet Battles For Better Life: Free Ashby Leach >>

An Extraordinary Veteran and Life: A Daughter Remembers Ashby Leach

By Janet Lynn Leach Kelly

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Ashby Leach passed away on August 13, 2022, at home with his daughter Janet Lynn. He died from complications of Agent Orange at the age of 76. Ashby was a lifetime member, Officer, and Honor Guard member of American Legion Post 93, Ceredo, West Virginia. He was a lifetime member and past Commander of the Daniel Edwards VFW Post in Ceredo. He was also a lifetime member of the Huntington chapter of the DAV. Advocating for, and supporting, Veterans and Veterans' organizations were his lifelong passions despite the invisible wounds of war, the memories that tormented him, and the PTSD that defied cure. His service as an LPN at the Woody Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, continues to live on.

While Ashby was honored with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service during Vietnam, he forever maintained these accolades were "no big deal." "It was a war zone," he would say. "I was only doing what I was trained to do." His "No Big Deal" approach to helping others survive extended to his dedication to the American Red Cross where he was a 100-gallon lifetime blood donor. Even at his Celebration of Life, the stories continued of how, as a Navy corpsman, Ashby saved lives on the battlefield, and volunteered for everything coming and going, always without fanfare.

His most touching legacy to a stranger in need was when he had a compelling nudge to donate his bone marrow. It proved a perfect match for a child with a rare and hopeless immune deficiency 1,000 miles away. The Bone Marrow Transplant Center remembered that Ashby was "one of a kind," their first donor who didn't stay in the hospital overnight. He just handed the staff a letter to take on the flight with the marrow, in which he wrote about being a Vietnam Veteran. "To him it is only a little inconvenience he would do for anyone," they said. "It was no big deal. But it was a very big deal."

That wasn't the only mystery, however. The boy's adoring grandfather, an artist, was so moved by the gift, he had to learn more about the donor. When he discovered it was a fellow Veteran who had served with him at the same time in Vietnam, he gifted him with a wood sculpture he'd designed featuring a soldier protecting a little boy. His grandson, the recipient of Ashby's priceless gift, was pronounced a total cure. He grew into a tender, gentle child with distinctive caring qualities and tremendous creativity.

The comrade's sculpture is a story of lives changed by art … a gift created by artistic hands that were no stranger to suffering. The unselfishness of Vietnam Veteran Ashby Leach who paid a dear price not only in Southeast Asia but on the homefront standing up for what he believed in. And the art of living that joined two soldiers and a child in the battle for his life.

The joy of the boy's mother was so marrow-deep, she also pursued a nursing career. "Vietnam Veterans may not have received a Welcome Home parade," she said. "But Ashby Leach is our family's hero." He gave her son a life, enabling him to exchange hospitals and ventilators for friends and birthday parties at Circus Pizza. Ordinary moments of childhood elevated to the extraordinary.

The Veteran grandfather's creation was a comforting presence by Ashby's bed when he died, and fueled his daughter Janet's passion and pride in caring for him. Her quiet-hero dad deserved no less than the care he had bestowed on so many others. It recalls the sentiment that sums up Ashby's life and consummate calling. To defend all he held dear no matter the cost: "I'd rather be rejected for who I am," he once said, "than revered for who you want me to be."

Janet Lynn Leach Kelly, the oldest daughter of Ashby Leach, has always been her father's keeper. From the time she was five years old, supporting her dad in the Cleveland siege, to the nurse caring for him during his final moments on earth, she never stopped being his advocate. "Early on, Dad taught me by example that one person really can make a difference," she says."To never give up, regardless of your age or station in life." Those lessons will forever be a source of her strength.

Ashby Leach with daughter Janet Lynn, February 2020.

Sculpture created by fellow Vietnam Veteran in gratitude for Ashby Leach's bone marrow
donation that saved his grandson's life. Framed photo of Ashby Leach in Vietnam, 1968.

<< 43. Michael Gold (1946-2022): Intrepid Veterans Advocate45. Vet Battles For Better Life: Free Ashby Leach >>