When you join the military, you don’t always get the job of your choice. Army Spc. 4th Class Alfred Rascon didn’t choose to be a medic when he joined the Army. But he did as he was assigned, and he did so with such distinction in Vietnam that, after a years-long push by fellow platoon members, he earned the Medal of Honor.
Rascon was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1945, but his parents emigrated to Oxnard, California, when he was 2 or 3. The family of three lived in an area with bars that service members were known to frequent. Rascon said some of those service members would give him their hand-me-downs or he would buy them for cheap at a nearby second-hand store.
This exchange led to his early fascination with the military. In fact, according to a Library of Congress interview, Rascon was so enthralled by the idea of becoming a paratrooper that he made his own parachute when he was 7, jumped off his roof and broke his wrist.
So, it was no major surprise when he enlisted in the Army right out of high school. His parents had to sign a waiver because he was only 17.
In late 1963, Rascon was assigned as a medic to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade. He was stationed in Okinawa in 1964, but as the Vietnam War escalated, his unit was relocated. In May 1965, he became part of the first major ground combat unit to serve there. Rascon said he learned quickly how medics had to depend on their wits, their skills and each other to aid the wounded during battle.
In the early morning of March 16, 1966, Rascon was assigned to a reconnaissance platoon on its way through Long Khanh province to reinforce another battalion under attack when they were suddenly fired upon. Several of the point men in the squad were seriously wounded.
“It was total chaos,” Rascon said during a Veterans History Project interview. “You could hear everything so distinct and clear. Also, you could smell the cordite from the explosions of the hand grenades going off. … I had no idea what was going on in front of me, other than the fact that somebody said, ‘Hey doc, somebody’s wounded.'”
With that, Rascon moved forward, ignoring directions to stay put until cover came. After several failed attempts to try to reach an injured soldier on an open trail, Rascon jumped up, ignoring the flying bullets and grenades around him, and grabbed the soldier. He then put his own body between the injured man and the enemy fire. Rascon got hit by shrapnel and took a bullet to the hip, but he ignored the pain and pulled his fellow soldier from the fire-laden trail.
Rascon, 20, was on the move again when a second soldier yelled that he was almost out of ammunition. So, Rascon crawled through more enemy fire to get back to the soldier he had just saved. Realizing that soldier was dead, he stripped that man of his ammo and gave it to the second soldier to continue his assault.
“There was nothing I could do for him,” he said of the slain soldier. “You’ve got to get on and help the rest [who] are living.”
Shortly after that, Rascon was hit in the face and torso by grenade fragments, which really rattled him.
“I didn’t want to play anymore. I didn’t want to take care of anybody,” he remembered. “But then I had to come back and put myself together again — gather my composure.”
As he did so, he looked up the trail and saw an abandoned machine gun, its ammunition and a spare barrel only about 10 yards from the enemy. Fearing that the gun and ammunition would fall into the wrong hands, an injured Rascon went to recover them. He then handed them off to another soldier, who was able to fire at the enemy, helping the pinned-down squad.
Despite his own wounds, Rascon kept searching for the injured. When he saw point grenadier Neil Haffey being targeted by small-arms fire and grenades, he covered Haffey with his own body, absorbing the grenade blasts himself. The act saved Haffey’s life, but injured Rascon further.
“I laid there, I don’t know for how long, and came to, and the fire fight was still going on. And all of a sudden, everything stopped,” Rascon remembered. The enemy had broken contact. “The fire fight terminated, and it was like a dead still.”
Despite his own intense injuries, Rascon stayed on the battlefield to help the wounded and direct their evacuation. It was only after someone put him into a medical helicopter that he allowed himself to be treated.
Rascon wasn’t expected to live, but after a few days at a field hospital in Saigon, he was transferred back to Japan, where he spent the next few months in recovery.
Rascon got out of the Army, went to school and got a job. However, he eventually rejoined the Army with a commission and served another tour of duty in Vietnam. He retired as a major.
Rascon was given a Silver Star for his valor in Vietnam in 1966. His platoon had recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but the request somehow got lost. It wasn’t until a reunion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the 1980s that his fellow soldiers discovered he had never received it. Those men renewed their efforts to get Rascon the medal he deserved.
Finally, on Feb. 8, 2000, Rascon was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony. Seven members of his platoon were there to celebrate.
Later, Rascon reflected on the medal’s meaning.
“You put this around your neck, and for the rest of your life, this is what you have to carry,” he said. “But you have to carry it for yourself and others, and you represent what America is about. It’s a humbling experience, and it’s something that I don’t take lightly.”
He also reflected on his platoon’s efforts to make the high honor happen.
“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. And they took, obviously, an oath to come back and save me and take care of me, because we were there to take care of each other,” he said.
One of his platoon mates was once asked why they renewed their Medal of Honor quest for him.
“The response by one of the individuals from the recon platoon was that ‘We don’t want to change history. We just wanted to correct it,'” Rascon said. “I think that speaks for itself.”
Rascon and his wife, Carol, currently live in Laurel, Maryland. Rascon continues to interact with the military to this day. Thank you, major, for your service!
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
Source: Department of DefenseSubscribe to our Morning Briefing and get the news delivered to your inbox before breakfast!