Medic Receives Long-delayed Medal of Honor
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2000 "This award is not really mine; it's for those who were with me that day," a humble, soft-spoken Alfred Rascon said after President Clinton presented him the Medal of Honor during White House ceremonies Feb. 8.
But Congress, the president and his platoon buddies who attended the ceremony said he earned the nation's highest military award. "None of us would be here today if not for Al," said Ray Compton, who was on the reconnaissance patrol's point during Rascon's heroic action on March 26, 1966, in Vietnam. "We owe a lot to Al Rascon. We wouldn't be alive or have a family if it hadn't been for Al."
President Clinton places the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, around Alfred Rascon's neck, more than 34 years after the former Army medic saved the lives of his platoon mates in Vietnam on March 26, 1966. Photo by Jerome Howard (Click photo for screen-resolution image)
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Born in Mexico on Sept. 10, 1945, Rascon was not even an American citizen when he performed his heroic deeds. "I was always an American in my heart," he said during the ceremony.
Rascon, then an Army medic, is credited with saving Compton, a former Army sergeant, and former Pfc. Neil Haffey's lives by shielding them from hand grenade blasts with his own body during "10 minutes of pure hell." Haffey attended the ceremony along with several other members of the 1st Battalion 503rd Airborne, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
In addition to Rascon's family and several members of his former unit, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, cabinet and military officials and congressional representatives witnessed the presentation.
Clinton said Rascon's platoon was sent to Vietnam in May 1965, and on March 16, 1966, they were in Long Khanh Province, helping another platoon that was pinned down by the enemy.
"In his words, it was '10 minutes of pure hell,'" Clinton said. "In the middle of an intense firefight, Alfred was everywhere."
The president said while attending to a fatally wounded machine gunner, Pvt. William Thompson, Rascon was hit with shrapnel and shot in the hip. The bullet went parallel to his spine, and came out by his shoulder.
"Ignoring his own wounds, he then brought desperately needed ammo to another machine gunner, Pvt. Larry Gibson (who was wounded)," Clinton noted. "Several grenades then landed nearby. One of them ripped his mouth open. When he saw another land near Pvt. Neil Haffey, he covered him with his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast. Yet another grenade landed near Sgt. Ray Compton, and Alfred covered him, also."
Barely able to walk and bleeding from his ears and nose, Rascon spotted and ran to recover a machine gun that the enemy was about to capture, Clinton said.
"The extra firepower kept the enemy from advancing, and Alfred Rascon saved his platoon," Clinton emphasized.
The attendees erupted in laughter when the president said Rascon never gave a single thought to himself - "except, he admits, for the instant when the grenade exploded near his face and he thought, oh, God, my good looks are gone."
"This man gave everything he had, utterly and selflessly, to protect his platoon mates and the nation, and yet he was not yet an American citizen," Clinton said.
Clinton quoted Rascon as saying later: "I did it because I had to do it and that's all there is to it. I don't consider myself a hero -- anybody in combat would do the same thing for their buddies and friends. We were all color-blind, we were all different nationalities; the important thing is that we were Americans fighting for America."
Clinton drew laughter again when he said, "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. Unfortunately, in his own words, the chute had a 'total malfunction' and he broke his wrist."
After graduating from high school, Rascon joined the Army and became a medic for a platoon of paratroopers, Clinton said.
Rascon said, "I wanted to give back something to this country and its citizens for the opportunities it had given me and my parents. Those paratroopers who served with me in the reconnaissance platoon knew nothing of my immigrant status. It was never an issue. They simply knew me as Doc."
"Alfred Rascon was so severely wounded that day he was actually given last rites," Clinton noted. "After a long convalescence, he pulled through -- and he continued to serve his country."
Rascon became a citizen in 1967. He served in the Army Reserves from 1966 to 1969. After graduating from Officers Candidate School in February 1970, he returned to active duty as a commissioned officer and volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam in 1972.
He's now the inspector general of the Selective Service System in Arlington, Va.
"Now, here's the story of how we all came here," Clinton said. "Alfred Rascon was given a Silver Star Medal for his valor that day, in 1966. But the request for his Medal of Honor somehow got lost in a thicket of red tape. His platoon mates persisted, showing as much loyalty to him as he had shown to them.
"Thanks to them, after 34 years, I am proud to present you with our nation's highest honor," Clinton told Rascon.