Marine's Quick Action Saves Two, Earns Medal
By Cpl. Chet Decker
American Forces Press Service
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Dec. 2, 1998 Marine Cpl. Francisco Lazcano's training and swift action left him with much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Lazcano, of Alpha Company, 8th Motor Transport Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., received a Joint Service Achievement Medal here Thanksgiving Day from a four-star general for his life-saving heroics during a near-fatal vehicle accident.
He was second in a seven-vehicle convoy driving through the mountains of central Honduras. His diesel-powered truck tractor was transporting newly arrived equipment and supplies from the port of Puerto Cortes to the air base.
While going down a steep hill with a full load behind him, his brakes failed. The rig, also known as a "Dragon Wagon," picked up speed while heading toward a 500-foot cliff. Lazcano and his assistant driver, Marine Cpl. Jamie Thompson, were only seconds away from certain death.
"He swerved the vehicle to the right to stay clear of the cliff, but on his right was the side of a mountain," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Acord, who was in the vehicle directly behind Lazcano.
The corporal was forced to make a decision that could have resulted in serious injury to himself and Thompson.
"I had to overextend to the right and try to graze the side of the mountain to try to slow us down," he said. His plan worked.
Acord, who had an unobstructed view of the accident, didn't think the two Marines would emerge unscathed. "The odds were against those guys. The way [the tractor] hit the side of that mountain, I was thinking Thompson was hurt pretty bad," he said. "We stopped the convoy and everyone got out to see if they were all right."
The two were uninjured, but understandably shook up. Lazcano had piloted the rig to hit the mountainside with the cargo area rather than the cab.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here right now," said Thompson, of 2nd Force Service Support Group Embarkation, Camp Lejeune. "No one else could ever do what he did. I'm so glad he was behind the wheel."
Four days later, Lazcano received his medal from Marine Gen. Charles Wilhelm, commander in chief of U.S. Southern Command, who was visiting the troops of Joint Task Force-Bravo here. The task force is engaged in humanitarian relief operations in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.
[Cpl. Chet Decker, assigned to Marine Forces Honduras, is a member of the U.S. military relief mission in Honduras.]