On this day in 2000, a hero receives his Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony. Alfred Rascon was originally nominated for the Medal in 1966, but the paperwork got lost. For decades, he didn’t even know that he’d been nominated for the honor.
Spc. 4th Class Alfred Rascon was just 19 years old when he arrived in Vietnam, ready to serve as an Army medic. “[Y]ou end up realizing that you’re a 20-year-old or a 19-year-old kid,” he later said of this time. “And you’ve got a medical bag that’s not appropriate to what you’re doing.”
The young medic would be put to the test on March 16, 1966, as his reconnaissance platoon went to the assistance of another battalion.
“[I]t was total chaos,” Rascon described. “I had been in fire fights before and, you know, some serious ones. But this was so intense, there were literally trees, branches falling. . . . I had no idea what was going on in front of me, other than the fact that somebody said, hey, Doc, somebody’s wounded.”
A machine gunner was lying exposed on an open enemy trail. Multiple people had tried to get to him, but the fire was too intense.
Rascon made one last run for the machine gunner, finally reaching him. “I have no idea what’s going on around him,” Rascon said. “I’m trying to get my hands to him, where I could come back and see what’s wrong.” Rascon took his first hit as he worked—a wound to the hip. He somehow still managed to drag the machine gunner off the trail.
“Thompson was dead,” Rascon said somberly. “There was nothing I could do for him.” Then he heard another solider yelling for ammo.
“I came up to him, found out he was shot in the leg. I’m trying to take care of his leg. He’s telling me, God damn it, Doc, stay the hell away from me,” Rascon chuckled. “I kept on saying, you’re shot in the leg. . . . And apparently this intense conversation goes on and I’m telling him, oh, yeah, I just took Thompson off the trail. He’s got ammo. And I’m thinking Gibson’s going to go get the ammo. He says, Doc, go get the ammo.”
Rascon returned to Thompson and grabbed two bandoliers for Gibson, who was soon sending suppressive fire toward the enemy.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Rascon took another hit as a grenade exploded near his face. “I didn’t want to play anymore,” Rascon said. “I didn’t want to take care of anybody. But then I had to come back and put myself together again, gather my composure.”
Rascon’s memories are fuzzy. “I remember certain things about that day,” he said. “Others I don’t. What happens is I’m being told what I did.” Mostly, he remembers “a lot of hand grenades that day,” but his fellow soldiers remember that he went after ammunition, in plain view of the enemy, multiple times. He threw himself on two separate soldiers, attempting to shield them from grenades.He ministered to the wounded, despite his own serious injuries.
He remembers throwing himself on Neil Haffey: “And as I got to him, I threw myself on him, because I thought the hand grenades were going to harm him. I didn’t realize the fact that, hey, listen, that’s a pretty stupid thing to do, because you're the one that’s going to get nailed. Well, I did get nailed.”
Needless to say, when Rascon was finally evacuated, his numerous injuries were life-threatening. No one expected him to live, and he was even given last rites—but then he survived!
“I was just doing my job,” Rascon shrugged when later asked about his Medal. “And that’s the way it was from the get-go, from the first time we got in country, because I did not take an oath to receive accolades or be given awards. I took an oath to myself to help others, because that’s what I was, a medic.”
Another humble hero.
Examining Immigrant Americans' Contribution to the Armed Forces and National Defense, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Immigration of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate (106th Congress; May 26, 1999)
Interview with Alfred V. Rascon (Veterans History Project)
Katie Lange, Medal of Honor Monday: Army Maj. Alfred Rascon (U.S. Dept. of Defense website; June 8, 2020)
Medal of Honor citation (Alfred V. Rascon; Vietnam)
Medal of Honor oral histories (Alfred V. Rascon; Vietnam)
Stuart Anderson, The Inspiring Story Of Immigrant Medal Of Honor Recipient Alfred Rascon (Forbes, May 8, 2019)