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One Grunt In The Desert, A Valiant Soldier’s Son

February 14, 1991

IN NORTHERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ For inspiration, Sgt. Darrin Ashley carries with him a remembrance of his father.

It’s a neatly folded newspaper clipping about how his father won the highest U.S. military award by giving his life to rescue trapped comrades in another far-off land.

″I always wanted to be like my father, what they told me how he was,″ said Ashley. ″I can follow in his footsteps, but I can never fill his shoes.

″He’s my hero.″

Eugene Ashley’s tenaciousness rescued some U.S. forces at Lang Vei Special Forces camp in Vietnam, but it cost him his life.

During the 1968 Tet offensive, his camp was overrun by North Vietnamese troops. Four times, the Special Forces first sergeant led a rescue mission only to be pushed back, twice suffering wounds.

The fifth time, his charge succeeded in freeing some trapped advisors.

During the rescue, Eugene Ashley called in an air strike, then passed out from his wounds. His body was never recovered.

Witnesses said the Viet Cong dragged it away.

For his heroism, he won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The citation, on display at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in Fayetteville, N.C., reads:

″The resolute valor with wich he led five gallant charges placed critical diversionary pressure on the attacking enemy, and his valiant efforts carved a channel in the overpowering enemy forces and weapons positions through which the survivors of Camp Lang Vei eventually escaped to freedom.″

Eugene Ashley was 36 when he died, serving his third tour in Vietnam.

Darrin was 2 years old, one of five boys Eugene left behind. He has a 3- year-old son, named Eric Eugene after his grandfather, and lives with his wife, Carletta, in Fayetteville.

Darrin learned about his father mainly through his older brothers. The memory was just too painful for his mother, Barbara, to talk about.

″My mom don’t talk about it that much. She hates talking about it. She’d try to get off the subject,″ he said. ″She gave the medal to me because I would cherish it more than the other kids, which I do.″

Ashley, a squad leader in a TOW gunner section, always wanted to be in the Army. His father served in the 82nd Airborne Division before going to Ranger school and joining the Green Berets. Now, Darrin is with front-line paratroopers several miles from Iraqi lines.

″When I was growing up, that’s all I wanted to do, go in the military,″ he said during an interview at a lookout position.

Its what his mother wanted, he said.

″She’s behind this. She thinks it’s right.″

Eugene Ashley died in an unpopular war that tore the nation apart. Darrin Ashley believes in this war, in the cause of the U.S.-led coalition.

″I think we’re fighting to protect the American way,″ he said in an interview from his lookout position. ″It’s my job. It’s why I came into the Army - to protect my country.″

Darrin Ashley is a five-year veteran of the Army but has never been in combat. When the ground war starts, he might have to lead men into battle.

″If one of my guys was trapped, I’d try to get him out too,″ he says.

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