Friday, March 16, 2012

TFH 3/16: Sp4c. Alfred V. Rascon, USA

Alfred V. Rascon was born in Chihuahua, Mexico on September 10, 1945. His parents Alfredo and Andrea emigrated to the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their young son, settling in Oxnard, California. After Alfred graduated from high school in 1963, he enlisted in the United States Army. After basic training in California and medical training at Fort Sam Houston, TX he volunteered for airborne training and qualified as a parachutist.

His first assignment was to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) - the core of the 173d Airborne Brigade - then stationed on Okinawa. In May 1965, the brigade became the first major ground combat unit committed to the war in Vietnam.

On March 16, 1966, Rascon was assigned as a medic to the 173d's reconnaissance platoon. The platoon was en route to reinforce one of the brigade's line battalions when itself came under heavy attack. He repeatedly put himself at extreme risk to render aid, pass ammunition, and retrieve vital equipment - all the while ignoring his own wounds from bullets and shrapnel. On multiple occasions, he shielded wounded comrades from grenade blasts with his own body. When the enemy withdrew, he refused aid until the others had been cared for. When he was finally evacuated, he wasn't expected to survive his numerous wounds to the point that a chaplain administered Catholic last rites, but did.

He spent six months in an Army hospital in Japan recuperating from his wounds. His chain of command nominated him for the Medal of Honor. Inexplicably, the award did not go through, and instead he was awarded the Silver Star - two levels below the Medal of Honor as a valor award.

The tale of Rascon's incredible valor and gallantry doesn't end there.

In May 1966, he was discharged from active duty and placed with the Army Reserve. He became a naturalized United States Citizen in 1967, and decided to return to the active Army by attending Officer's Candidates School. He returned to Vietnam as an advisor, and went back to reserve status in 1976 after reaching the rank of Captain.

In 1985 during a reunion of 173d Airborne Brigade veterans, Rascon's fellow soldiers from the Vietnam battle in 1966 were stunned to learn that he hadn't received the Medal of Honor they knew he had been nominated for. Three of the men whose lives he had saved took up the cause with the Army to correct the mistake. It took many years and the intervention of a member of Congress, but in 1997 the Army revisited Rascon's case.

On February 8, 2000, Alfred Rascon received the award he should have gotten 34 years before at the White House from President Clinton.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (M-Z):


Rank and organization: Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry,173d Airborne Brigade (Separate) Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 16 March 1966 Born: 1945, Chihuahua, Mexico Citation: Specialist Four Alfred Rascon, distinguished himself by a series of extraordinarily courageous acts on 16 March 1966, while assigned as a medic to the Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate). While moving to reinforce its sister battalion under intense enemy attack, the Reconnaissance Platoon came under heavy fire from a numerically superior enemy force. The intense enemy fire from crew-served weapons and grenades severely wounded several point squad soldiers. Specialist Rascon, ignoring directions to stay behind shelter until covering fire could be provided, made his way forward. He repeatedly tried to reach the severely wounded point machine-gunner laying on an open enemy trail, but was driven back each time by the withering fire. Disregarding his personal safety, he jumped to his feet, ignoring flying bullets and exploding grenades to reach his comrade. To protect him from further wounds, he intentionally placed his body between the soldier and enemy machine guns, sustaining numerous shrapnel injuries and a serious wound to the hip. Disregarding his serious wounds he dragged the larger soldier from the fire-raked trail. Hearing the second machine-gunner yell that he was running out of ammunition, Specialist Rascon, under heavy enemy fire crawled back to the wounded machine-gunner stripping him of his bandoleers of ammunition, giving them to the machine-gunner who continued his suppressive fire. Specialist Rascon fearing the abandoned machine gun, its ammunition and spare barrel could fall into enemy hands made his way to retrieve them. On the way, he was wounded in the face and torso by grenade fragments, but disregarded these wounds to recover the abandoned machine gun, ammunition and spare barrel items, enabling another soldier to provide added suppressive fire to the pinned-down squad. In searching for the wounded, he saw the point grenadier being wounded by small arms fire and grenades being thrown at him. Disregarding his own life and his numerous wounds, Specialist Rascon reached and covered him with his body absorbing the blasts from the exploding grenades, and saving the soldier's life, but sustaining additional wounds to his body. While making his way to the wounded point squad leader, grenades were hurled at the sergeant. Again, in complete disregard for his own life, he reached and covered the sergeant with his body, absorbing the full force of the grenade explosions. Once more Specialist Rascon was critically wounded by shrapnel, but disregarded his own wounds to continue to search and aid the wounded. Severely wounded, he remained on the battlefield, inspiring his fellow soldiers to continue the battle. After the enemy broke contact, he disregarded aid for himself, instead treating the wounded and directing their evacuation. Only after being placed on the evacuation helicopter did he allow aid to be given to him. Specialist Rascon's extraordinary valor in the face of deadly enemy fire, his heroism in rescuing the wounded, and his gallantry by repeatedly risking his own life for his fellow soldiers are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. 

This great American once again felt his adopted Nation's call in the times after September 11, 2001. He returned to the Army Reserve in 2002, and served with the Army Medical Service Corps in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired finally as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2008, and is still living.

His Vietnam-era unit, the 173d Airborne Brigade, known today as the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team, is based in Vicenza, Italy and serves as the United States European Command's strategic rapid response force. The brigade has served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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