A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 2000/March 2000

Alfred Rasconís Medal of Honor

By Jim Belshaw

Thirty-four years after the fact and seven years after the men whose lives he saved began the long campaign to set the record straight, former Army medic Alfred Rascon received the nation's highest military honor--the Medal of Honor.

In a White House ceremony on February 8, President Clinton presented the medal to Rascon in front of an East Room audience that included Rascon's former Army comrades and longtime VVA members Bill Duker, VVA Vice President Tom Corey, Janet Alheit, and VVA Executive Director Ed Croucher. It was former Board member Duker who initially involved VVA in the case in 1993.

Breaking with tradition, President Clinton offered Rascon the opportunity to speak to the gathering.

"I was surprised," he told The VVA Veteran. "I wasn't expecting to speak. Not at all. So whatever I said came from the heart. It was what I felt."

He asked the men who had survived the ambush to stand. He said the Medal of Honor belonged not only to him, but to all of them.

Later, he told The VVA Veteran: "I've always said this. This medal belongs to all of the guys. It's a great honor, but in reality itís not my honor. Itís all those people who stuck with it for so many years, the paratroopers of the 173rd. But above that, it ends up being the medal that belongs to everybody in the armed services who has served in the past or continues to serve now."

Rascon expressed gratitude for the role VVA played in helping to move forward the long effort to correct the record.

"When this thing was still getting off the ground, someone contacted VVA," he said. "VVA ended up being a big supporter of the guys trying to get the packet through the military. VVA was always there. They were just good people. Any time anyone needed anything, VVA was there."

Rascon said the effort will not end with the awarding of the Medal of Honor, but will continue until everyone in his unit had been recognized for their actions.

"They weren't there to change history, they were there to correct it," he said. "It wasn't just the Medal of Honor. There were other citations that were written but never awarded. Larry Gibson, my machine gunner, was submitted for a Silver Star and that packet got lost. Neil Haffey was supposed to get a Bronze Star with "V" but never received it. Ray Compton was nominated for a Silver Star but didn't get it. Hopefully, all of this will be corrected in a couple of weeks."

On March 16, 1966, Rascon's unit, a recon platoon in the 173rd Airborne Brigade's 1st Battalion, 503rd regiment, was ambushed. Rascon, the platoon's medic, ignored orders to stay down and ran through the machine gun fire and grenade blasts to aid the wounded.

Twice he used his body to shield wounded comrades from grenade blasts. Each time he absorbed the shrapnel and blast himself. Despite his wounds, after tending the others, he ran out again under fire to deliver ammunition to a machine gunner.

Wounded so severely that he was given last rites, Rascon survived, recuperating in an Army hospital in Tokyo before being discharged later that year. He eventually re-entered the Army as an officer and served a second tour in Vietnam.

Members of his platoon immediately nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork never went forward. In 1993, at a reunion, when they expected to see a Medal of Honor winner, they were stunned and angered to discover that the medal had not been awarded.

A member of Sons and Daughters In Touch met Rascon and then told his story to Duker, who was then chairman of VVAís Government Affairs Committee.

Duker met with Rascon, though he was skeptical about battlefield medals.

"I'm not a real big fan of medals of valor and this case is representative of why I'm not," he said. "There are so many people who didn't get recognized for what they did and so many others who got the package but didn't deserve it. But I looked at the materials Al gave me and my first thought was that this guy got screwed."

Duker presented the case to VVA, which brought it to the attention of long-time ally Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.). The January 1995 The VVA Veteran cover story, "Above & Beyond" told of Rasconís acts of heroism. "VVA was instrumental in this and we're proud of it," Duker said. "It's a real success story and we played a part in it."

Rascon, 54, is an inspector general for the Selective Service System in Arlington, Virginia. He was not a U.S. citizen on the day of the ambush in Vietnam. Born in Mexico, he had joined the Army as an act of gratitude to his new homeland.

Rascon said the gathering of his comrades at the Medal of Honor ceremony brought closure for many of them.

"Some of these people I hadn't seen in 34 years," he said. "The day I picked them up [at the airport] was emotional. They came over to the house and we had a great time. It was a good situation for people to have closure about something that happened so long ago. I think it probably was the best thing that happened. We ended up going to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with people who had never been. There was some serious crying, and that's good."

Duker said he came away from the White House ceremony pleased that Rascon received the recognition due him, and even more pleased that Rascon's platoon buddies were able to share the experience.

"It speaks to the bond that's formed. Most people who have been in combat will tell you that," he said. "When soldiers do the kinds of things Al did, they do it for the love of their comrades. That's how much they cared for each other then, and it carried through for a long time after the event and right up to today. They're still close; they're still tight. Thatís very impressive."

 

 

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