During '10 minutes of Hell' in the Vietnam jungle, Mexican-born medic became a hero to his comrades.
In 1993, Alfred Rascon talked to an old platoon mate from Vietnam for the first time in years. Former Sgt. Ray Compton asked Rascon how it felt to be nominated for the Medal of Honor. "I don’t know," Rascon replied. Compton, who knew firsthand of his friend’s heroism on March 16, 1966, immediately took steps to spread the story of what happened that day in Vietnam.
And in February 2000, President Clinton presented former Army Spc. 4 Alfred Rascon with the United States' highest military honor for the actions he had taken 34 years earlier.
The long gap between Rascon’s actions and his Medal of Honor has been blamed on red tape and bureaucratic neglect. For Rascon, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, there was no cause for resentment at not receiving the honor earlier. "It was just a matter of me doing what I had to do that day, like any other day," he said. "It just so happens [that day] was a bad day."
Rascon was a medic with the reconnaissance platoon of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). While the men of his platoon moved through deep jungle to reinforce the 2nd Battalion, they came under heavy fire. "We later found out [the 2nd Battalion was] engaged with two reinforced battalions of the regular NVA," Rascon told Vietnam magazine. "They were being hit from all sides."
Rascon, known as "Doc" to his platoon mates, heard cries for a medic from up front. Ignoring directions to keep sheltered, Rascon repeatedly made attempts to reach Pfc. William Thompson, a wounded point gunner lying on an open enemy trail. Once he reached the soldier, Rascon placed his own body between Thompson and the enemy fire, sustaining serious injuries in the process.
But Rascon’s work wasn’t finished. After dragging the wounded gunner off-trail, he heard another gunner, Pfc. Larry Gibson, yell that he was low on ammunition. Rascon brought two bandoliers from Thompson’s chest to Gibson. He began searching for more wounded soldiers when two grenades exploded in front of him, the second ripping through his face. Instead of giving up, Rascon said, he thought "you’ve got to take care of your people." Rascon threw himself on top of Pvt. Neil Haffey, also shielding Compton from the blast of the next grenade.
Rascon was not even a naturalized citizen during that "10 minutes of hell" in 1966. Yet he had voluntarily joined the Army in order to "give something back to my country ... I was always an American in my heart," he said during his Medal of Honor ceremony.
The humble Rascon says, "I’m not a hero," but the men he saved that day in 1966 disagree.
"Neither [Haffey nor I] would be here today if it hadn’t been for Al," Compton told reporters. "Maybe not in his own eyes, but in our eyes, he’s a hero. No doubt about it."