Vietnam Medic Receives Medal of Honor-Three Decades Late
by Brooke Ruivivar
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 9, 2000)- Alfred Rascon was a hero to the soldiers in his platoon after his courageous actions in March 1966, in the Long Khanh Province in Vietnam.
In a ceremony at the White House on February 8, President Bill Clinton presented Rascon with a Medal of Honor that was decades in the making. He commended both Rascon and the soldiers who nominated him for two separate battles. For Rascon, the honor came for his actions in Vietnam. For his platoon mates, the praise came for their persistent fight to attain a Medal of Honor for Rascon.
Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera echoed Clinton's thanks to Rascon's former platoon mates at the ceremony to formally induct Rascon into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon.
"Without the efforts of his former comrades at arms, who were so persistent in the halls of Congress and the White House and here, in insisting that Alfred Rascon's heroic deeds be recognized, there would be no Medal of Honor ceremony today," Caldera said. "A special thanks goes to them . . . and to Congressman Lane Evans, who sponsored the legislation authorizing the Pentagon to waive the time period for these awards from years past, so we may recognize deeds like Alfred Rascon's."
Those deeds occurred on March 16, 1966, when Rascon was a 20-year-old specialist assigned as a medic to the Reconnaissance Platoon, 1st of the 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate), according to his award citation. His platoon drew intense enemy fire, and Rascon risked his life to save other soldiers. He repeatedly put himself in the line of fire to protect wounded platoon wounded platoon mates, sheltering them from grenade blasts, shrapnel and machine gun fire.
Although he was wounded himself, he managed to crawl across the field and retrieve extra ammunition for a machine-gunner, which his citation said helped his platoon win the battle.
When the enemy fire subsided, he would not give up his duty as medic, directing the evacuation of critically wounded soldiers treating their wounds. Finally, assured that the soldiers were receiving the help they needed, he allowed his own wounds to be treated.
"On that distant day, in that faraway place, this man gave everything he had, utterly and selflessly, to protect his platoon mates and the nation he was still not yet a citizen of," Clinton said. "Later, [Rascon] said with characteristic modesty, 'I did it because I had to, and that's all there is to it.'"
Rascon, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, has lived in the United States for most of his life. He said he felt compelled to volunteer to join the Army to give back to the country that had given his family so much, although he did not officially become a citizen until 1967, after his first tour of duty in Vietnam.
"You have taught us once again that being American has nothing to do with place of birth, racial or ethnic origins; it come straight from your heart," Clinton said.
Rascon's desire to serve his country can be traced back to his childhood, Clinton said. "He grew up near three military bases and fell in love with the Armed Forces. At the advanced age of seven, wanting to do his part to defend America, he built a homemade parachute and jumped off the roof of his house," Clinton said. "Unfortunately, in his own words, the chute had a 'total malfunction,' and he broke his wrist. But as usual, he was undeterred. He graduated from high school and enlisted in the United States Army. Appropriately, he became a medic for a platoon of paratroopers."
After Clinton presented him with the Medal of Honor, Rascon's name and picture were unveiled in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes during a ceremony led by Secretary Caldera.
"Mr. Rascon, by virtue of his stirring acts of heroism and courage, now joins the hallowed company of other heroes listed here on the roll call of honor in this sacred hall," Caldera said.
Rascon had little to say about the honor.
"Above all, I want all of you to be very much aware that the Medal of Honor for me is not mine. It ends up being that of those individuals who were with me that day in Vietnam," Rascon said. "I am not a hero; I am just a person doing his duty as he would have any other day."