Thursday, May 24, 2012

TFH 5/24: SFC Louis R. Rocco, USA

Louis Richard Rocco was born on November 19, 1938 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a child, his family moved to the Los Angeles, California area. His childhood and teen years were troubled, culminating with his dropping out of high school and an arrest for armed robbery at age 16.

The judge in Rocco's case suspended his sentence on the condition that he stayed clean until age 17 when he'd be allowed to join the United States Army. Rocco followed the judge's instructions and enlisted in 1955. During his first tour of duty after enlisting in Germany, he earned his high school equivalency.

He served his first combat tour in Vietnam during 1965-1966. In 1969, he returned to the war-torn country, this time as an adviser to a South Vietnamese Army unit. On May 24, 1970 he volunteered to board a helicopter to help rescue eight wounded soldiers. What followed next is doubtlessly a story worthy of our Nation's highest honor.

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


Rank and organization: Warrant Officer (then Sergeant First Class), U.S. Army, Advisory Team 162, U.S. Military Assistance Command. Place and date: Northeast of Katum, Republic of Vietnam, 24 May 1970. Entered service at: Los Angeles, Calif. Born: 19 November 1938, Albuquerque, N. Mex. Citation: WO Rocco distinguished himself when he volunteered to accompany a medical evacuation team on an urgent mission to evacuate 8 critically wounded Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel. As the helicopter approached the landing zone, it became the target for intense enemy automatic weapons fire. Disregarding his own safety, WO Rocco identified and placed accurate suppressive fire on the enemy positions as the aircraft descended toward the landing zone. Sustaining major damage from the enemy fire, the aircraft was forced to crash land, causing WO Rocco to sustain a fractured wrist and hip and a severely bruised back. Ignoring his injuries, he extracted the survivors from the burning wreckage, sustaining burns to his own body. Despite intense enemy fire, WO Rocco carried each unconscious man across approximately 20 meters of exposed terrain to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam perimeter. On each trip, his severely burned hands and broken wrist caused excruciating pain, but the lives of the unconscious crash survivors were more important than his personal discomfort, and he continued his rescue efforts. Once inside the friendly position, WO Rocco helped administer first aid to his wounded comrades until his wounds and burns caused him to collapse and lose consciousness. His bravery under fire and intense devotion to duty were directly responsible for saving 3 of his fellow soldiers from certain death. His unparalleled bravery in the face of enemy fire, his complete disregard for his own pain and injuries, and his performance were far above and beyond the call of duty and were in keeping with the highest traditions of self-sacrifice and courage of the military service.

Rocco retired from the Army in 1978 as a Chief Warrant Officer Two. He volunteered to serve his country again during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91. He served domestically to recruit medical personnel and to fill a position vacated by another soldier sent to war. He passed away from lung cancer on October 31, 2002 and is buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.

A postscript: on October 31, 2011, while Rocco's widow was visiting her late husband's grave on the anniversary of his death, thieves broke into her home. Among the items they stole was Rocco's original Medal of Honor. It is not known if the Medal was ever recovered.

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