MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT REACHES OUT

By Eric Cramer, Army News Service, Feb. 2, 2005

WASHINGTON — Maj. Alfred Rascon didn’t set out to do anything historic. He joined the Army at 17 because it was something he always wanted to do. In action, as a U.S. Army medic in Vietnam, his actions earned the Medal of Honor, awarded belatedly in the year 2000 as a result of lost paper work.

He twice served the Selective Service Administration as a civilian - once as inspector general, and a second time as the organization’s director. Now this 59-year-old major has returned to service as part of a retiree recall. He has visited both Iraq and Afghanistan, motivating and supporting troops in the field.

“Coming back on active duty was something I never had to think about,” Rascon said. “Some people probably think I’m not so smart to quit being the head of Selective Service and come back in as just a major, but it was the right thing to do.”

His efforts in current operations and in Vietnam are now a piece of history in a different sense, part of the “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” display at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History.

“I’ve been a Soldier since I was a kid,” Rascon said. “The best thing I can do now, in the field, is to touch someone, tell them I’ve been enlisted, I’ve been an officer, and I’ve been a civilian – and I know what they’re dealing with.”

Rascon carried a Medal of Honor flag with him everywhere he went while visiting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Everyone signed that flag – privates, generals, everyone,” Rascon said. “I came back with more than 700 signatures.”

The flag, Rascon’s Medal of Honor citation, and a “boonie” hat he wore while serving in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, are displayed next to an exhibit honoring Audey Murphy, the most decorated Soldier in the history of the United States.

Rascon earned his medal by putting his own body between machinegun fire and the patients he was serving in combat, and making a run for extra ammunition when one of the unit’s machineguns was running low. In the process, he received several wounds from machinegun fire and grenade fragments.

The former medic doesn’t make light of what he did to earn the Medal of Honor, nor does he brag. “There are Medal of Honor recipients of all colors and creeds,” he said. “I suppose you can say we are all victims of circumstance.”

Rascon said he was amazed by the response of troops in the field he visited. “Sometimes they were just awestruck because a Medal of Honor recipient was there. I had to let them know, ‘Hey, I’m just like
you.’”

He has also visited the wounded in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “That’s an emotional roller coaster for me, because they’re so caught up in seeing a Medal of Honor recipient – they try to take care of me,” Rascon said.

Rascon said the military helped him become a success, taking him from being a poor child in an immigrant neighborhood in Oxnard, Calif. to director of the SSA. “I came in with nothing at all. I was Hispanic, and my education wasn’t like others,. I went back to Oxnard, and some of the people I grew up with remember taking my toys from me and picking on me – but they said ‘we always knew you'd make something of yourself.”

The Major is on medical hold at the moment. Doctors replaced both of his knees in surgery last year after the wear and tear of being in the field and climbing in and out of military vehicles wore down his cartilage. He said he is waiting on a medical board to determine his duty status. He waits with no regrets.

“Everything I’ve done, I’d do again,” he said. “In the Army, you take care of each other. We’re here for each other, and that’s the most important thing.”