Medal of Honor recipient Army Lieutenant Colonel Rascon: “I was always an American in my heart.”
(Post Picture) “Two American soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade help Alfred Rascon, a four-time wounded medic from a reconnaissance platoon. Thirty years later, Rascon received the Medal of Honor.
Mexican-born Medal of Honor recipient Alfred Rascon was once asked about his courage on the battlefield fighting for America even though he had yet to become a citizen. “I was always an American in my heart,” said Rascon.
Alfred Rascon’s story started when he immigrated with his parents to the United States from Mexico when he was just a toddler. He grew up in the town of Oxnard, not far from Los Angeles. As a child, Alfred saw many servicemen from different military branches visiting Oxnard during the Korean War. He read Sergeant Rock comic books, played with plastic soldiers and pretended to be an airman, once jumping off the roof of his house and breaking his wrist.
After graduating high school, he believed that his options were mostly limited to working in a body shop or a gas station. He didn’t want that and hoped to attend college but lacked the money. He needed permission from his parents to join military service. “I had made up my mind. Once I graduated from high school I wanted to join the military. . . . So, at the ripe age of 17, in 1963, in August, I joined the Army.”
Following basic training and several weeks of additional instruction, Alfred Rascon became a medic. After he completed jump school, he shipped off to Okinawa. By May 1965, he was in Vietnam.
Although only 19 years old, he had no choice but to adapt to his role as a medic. “Eventually what happens, you start seeing people that are killed and then realizing that you’re a 20-year-old or a 19-year-old kid, and you’ve got a medical bag that’s not appropriate to what you’re doing,” said Rascon. “Then all of a sudden, you’ve got to live by your wits and the skills of your self-teaching and the teachings of others, who are senior medics, and realize that, as a 19-year-old, you’re not God. And you’re about to see people that are going to get dismembered, disemboweled, and people that are about to die in your arms. And you did not have the choice to come back and say I don’t want to take care of him. You had to.”
March 16, 1966, changed the lives of Alfred Rascon and the members of his platoon. The events were part of Operation Silver City and took place in South Vietnam.
In Congressional testimony, Elmer R. Compton, a sergeant in Alfred Rascon’s platoon, described what happened on that day:
On March 16, 1966, Al Rascon was with the Recon Platoon on a search and destroy mission known as Operation Silver City. My team had engaged a well-armed enemy force and the enemy had superiority and immediately pinned our fire team down. Through the intense fire of automatic fire and grenades, Rascon made his way to the point where my squad was pinned down and couldn’t move in any direction.
Although wounded himself, Rascon continued to move forward to work his way to my position, attending to my wounds as well. After reaching my position, I could see that he was in great pain. As he began to patch me up, as I was placing M16 fire in the direction of the enemy, two or three hand grenades were thrown in our direction, the direction of Rascon and myself, landing no more than a few feet away. Without hesitation, Rascon jumped on me, taking me to the ground and covering me with his body. He received numerous wounds from that encounter, also. I truly do believe his actions that day saved my life. What more can a person do for God, country and his fellow man?
In closing, I think of the Military Code of Conduct, the first code, which goes I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard our country and our way of life, and I am prepared to give my life in its defense. The immigrants that I had the privilege to know and serve with upheld this code.
When I look at my wife, my son and my daughter, I cannot keep from thinking of one particular immigrant by the name of Al Rascon, and the contribution he made to me and my family on March 16, 1966. The heroic and gallant action of Al Rascon on that day, I believe, saved my life, as well as other members of my team.
The wounds Alfred Rascon received that day were life-threatening. As he moved back and forth to save members of his platoon, Rascon became covered with blood from a bullet wound to his hip. After he threw himself down to protect a fellow soldier a grenade ripped off his scalp and damaged his face. “Your face was literally bleeding,” a member of the platoon told him.
The Medal of Honor citation for Rascon states:
After the enemy broke contact, he disregarded aid for himself, instead treating the wounded and directing their evacuation. Only after being placed on the evacuation helicopter did he allow aid to be given to him. Specialist Rascon’s extraordinary valor in the face of deadly enemy fire, his heroism in rescuing the wounded, and his gallantry by repeatedly risking his own life for his fellow soldiers are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
When Alfred Rascon was evacuated to the helicopter, a chaplain gave him last rites.
In a recent interview, Rascon told me about his life since that day in Vietnam in March 1966.
After being evacuated, he spent three months recovering in a hospital in Japan. He returned to the United States, started college and became a U.S. citizen.
In 1969, Rascon received orders to report to active duty – he was being sent back to Vietnam. On his second tour, he served until 1974 as an intelligence officer and received commendations for his service. From 1976 to 1984, he was stationed in Panama with responsibilities that included overseeing intelligence operations. He married in 1985 and has two children.
Alfred Rascon left active duty but remained in intelligence, first working for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), then INTERPOL (for the Department of Justice) and later the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He worked for the Inspector General’s office of the Selective Service until the Senate confirmed him as director of the Selective Service in 2002.
In 2003, the U.S. Army activated Rascon and assigned him to the Office of the Surgeon General (in the Medical Corps). He went twice to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. After he retired, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, Rascon returned to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East to visit troops as a civilian and Medal of Honor recipient.
That day in March 1966 is never far from Alfred Rascon’s thoughts. He still lives with shrapnel lodged in his hip and even his mouth.
In a recent court case it was asserted that naturalized citizens are not the same as those citizens born in America. Alfred Rascon’s life serves as a rebuke to that notion. “I realize that when you’re brought into this world, you don’t have a choice. But I tell people I’m an immigrant by birth and an American by choice,” said Rascon. “I’m very proud of that.”
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Story by Stuart Anderson