CPT Rascon, (then Specialist Four) received the Medal Of Honor for actions performed 16 March 1966. Read his Medal of Honor citation for distinguished actions while serving as a medical aidman in a Reconnaissance Platoon, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam can be viewed.
Specialist Four Rascon was originally submitted for the Medal of Honor, but was awarded the Silver Star due to a mistake in the paperwork. Not until a reunion of the 173rd, did his comrades discover that he never received his award. They renewed their efforts and he was finally presented the Medal of Honor on 8 February 2000.
In this interview, conducted on 17 November 2000, Captain Rascon describes in detail his experiences in Vietnam.
Interviewer: This is an oral history interview with Captain Alfred V. Rascon. Todays date is 17 November 2000. Captain Rascon, would you describe your personal background, please?
CPT Rascon: Well, first of all, I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1945. Ended up migrating to the United States probably when I was three or four years old. Raised in an area called East LA in Los Angeles. From there, probably when I was, oh, four or five, yeah, probably about four or five, we ended up moving to another area called Oxnard, again in Southern California, just northwest of Los Angeles on the coast.
Interviewer: As you grew up in that particular area there, what was your educational background, school?
CPT Rascon: Well, at that time I, literally a high school graduate in 1963. In fact, I did end up graduating in 1963 from high school, from Oxnard High School, predominantly a mix of all colors and creeds, with the exception of where I was raised it was an area called La Colonia. Probably 99.9 percent Hispanic neighborhood.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, why did you enter the United States Army?
CPT Rascon: Well, that was one thing I wanted to do ever since I was a little boy. In fact, during 1952 and '53 and '51, the Korean War was going on, and the area where we lived in Oxnard was predominantly -- well, we had a construction battalion center for the Navy, Point Mugu which is a naval test center, and also at the time we had an Air Force base. And Port Hueneme was an embarkation point, or debarkation point I guess, embarkation point, both ways, for troops going to Korea. And the area where I lived at that time, literally I lived next door to where there were a lot of Mexican cantinas or bars, so we had a lot of the troops that would visit those areas, and I ended up meeting literally the gamut of people, Army, Navy and Air Force. Some of those people ended up being guys who were wearing funny looking little boots, and also hats with the glider patch on it. They ended up being paratroopers, which I had no idea who they were. And probably when I was seven years of age, or six, I ended up doing what I thought was going to be the right thing for the military. I ended up making myself a parachute, jumped off of the roof, fell on my head. Didn't break my head but I broke my wrist. I realized that I wanted to join the military. At that time in fact when I graduated from high school I was only 17, and I had to get a waiver from my parents, which they were not too happy about, but I did, and joined the military.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, where did you take basic training at?
CPT Rascon: In 1963, I joined the Army in August, and I ended up taking basic training at Fort Ord, California, which was again I guess eight weeks at that time. From there I ended up going to AIT, or I guess my individual training, which was Fort Sam Houston as a medic.
Interviewer: Did you choose to become a medic, or was this the Army saying based on your scores and that type of assessment, is this why, or did you volunteer to become a medic?
CPT Rascon: No, in 1963 I had no idea why I was picked. All I wanted to do was again to be a paratrooper, and that was the first thing obviously they said you were going to be a paratrooper, and thereafter, once I finished with basic training everybody ended up with their orders and mine said medic.
Interviewer: And where did you take your advanced individual training?
CPT Rascon: We ended up of all things, we ended up moving by train to Fort Sam Houston, and I ended up taking the basic aidman course, and from there we took the advanced, I guess an additional four weeks of medical specialist training. This I think started in probably I guess sometime in October or September.
Interviewer: This was at the Medical Training Center?
CPT Rascon: Yes.
Interviewer: Which was not part of the medical department. At that time it was run by the post.
CPT Rascon: Exactly. It was a separate entity from what I remember.
Interviewer: Following your graduating from the advanced individual training and everything, what was your next assignment?
CPT Rascon: Immediately I ended up being dispatched to Fort Benning to attend jump school, and I ended up finishing jump school probably in late December. Then immediately in January or I think probably in January I ended up going back to my home town of Oxnard for a couple weeks vacation. Then from there I ended up getting orders to go to an area called Okinawa, and report to the 173th Airborne Brigade, which was a separate unit. In fact, in 1963, the unit, the 173rd, had been formed, and it was a separate brigade literally in Southeast Asia, which was to be known as the Fire Brigade. Anytime there was any problems in Southeast Asia the Airborne Brigade would be there.
Interviewer: When did you first arrive in Vietnam?
CPT Rascon: My arrival in Vietnam was on February 5th, 1965. In fact, we were the first combat unit to arrive in Vietnam in 1965.
Interviewer: This is the 173rd?
CPT Rascon: The 173rd. We had the 1st Battalion of the 503rd, which I was a member of, to include the 2nd Battalion, and also the medical company and its other recruitments that went with it.
Interviewer: Could you describe some of your experiences as a combat medic?
CPT Rascon: Well, first of all we have to come back and realize the fact that in 1965 I was a 19 year old kid, literally. I might have been a man but I was still a young kid. And we ended up arriving in Vietnam. The 1st 503rd ended up arriving in Ben Hoa, but immediately was sent to the south portion of Vietnam, to an area called Vung Tau, and we ended up arriving there with the medical platoon, and again the 1st 503rd, and probably within the first five days after we were there we had our first combat patrol. It was in an area called Beria. At that time I was not assigned to any particular unit. I ended up being of all things, I was assigned to the recon platoon to go on that patrol, or that operation. And that was the first time probably within the second day we were there we ran into the first enemy contact that I was thrown into at that time. It was a pretty traumatic experience, the fact that the first fire fight was literally like everybody in rock and roll, trying to shoot everything that was in front of you, and the outcome was I think we ended up shooting, well the death of two Viet Cong that were to our left, and that was the first time I had ever seen anybody who was wounded, and anybody who had ever been killed.
We ended up with some injuries ourselves, but they were not caused by the enemy. They were caused by at that time the A-1 Skyraiders which were flying over our heads, and unbeknownst to the pilot was the fact that instead of coming in from the left to the right, he came from our backs to the front, and the casings from the 20 millimeter mike-mike ended up falling on a number of individuals that ended up with, you know, broken bones. But literally that was the first time I was in combat, and the first time that I ended up treating somebody under combat, but it was not a wound. Technically it was like broken bones like injuries of that type.
Interviewer: You were awarded the Silver Star for heroism also, along with the Medal of Honor. Could you describe the circumstances around that particular, that action, receiving that award?
CPT Rascon: It was just another operation, I mean, you know, just a basic operation which a few people were injured, and I went back and just did what I had to do. I mean it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I think probably the most memorable thing that I had received was my Army Commendation Medal with a "V" for Valor. The irony of that thing was that this ends up being September 20th, 1965, and we were in an area called Ben Cat, and we were crossing a rice paddy, and in front of me was a PFC Boots from Texas. In fact he's probably about six foot six, I'm maybe five foot seven, maybe. And as we were crossing the rice paddy, on the periphery to our right we ended up being shot at by a machine gunner who had set up an ambush site, so they ended up shooting me along with Boots. I was shot in the forearm, and Boots was shot in the fleshy part of the calf, and literally when the bullet went through him I could see a piece of meat almost like a piece of tube steak coming out of his thigh, or the fleshy portion of it. Immediately we ended up committing counterfire to the enemy. The irony of this whole thing was that the fire fight probably lasted all of maybe five or six minutes, but it was a very traumatic experience because I thought I was going to die at the time, but obviously I ended up surviving.
But the way I managed to take care of Boots, and get him out of the area where we were stuck literally in the rice paddy, and the first helicopter that landed could not take him because the guy was looking, out of all things, he was looking for the battalion CP and it wasn't a medical evacuation helicopter, and he wasn't about to take anybody. So he took off. The second helicopter that finally arrived was a Medivac and we ended up putting Boots aboard the helicopter. Then they were ready to put me onboard, but literally I was stuck in the mud. I mean literally in the mud. Anybody who's been in a rice paddy, or has been in an area where there's mud, they realize the fact that it becomes very difficult at times to walk through it.
Well, by the time that they ended up literally unplugging me from the mud, the helicopter had to leave because it was taking rounds. I wanted to leave, I didn't want to stay there, I'll be honest about this. I think I had better things to do at that time. But I ended up staying there with the patrol, and I ended up bandaging up my arm, which at that time when I was wounded I thought I was going to die. In reality, it was just like a small boo-boo, okay.
But probably within 15 minutes thereafter we ended up going into the area where the machine gunners had shot at us, and it was really literally like an incline into a small area, when I heard this huge explosion, and I remember picking myself off the ground. I couldn't hear and I had blood coming out of my ears, and I was told that there were two people up to the front, and in fact I could hear them, somebody yelling "Medic." When I got there I had an individual whose arm was missing. I had an individual who had been shot literally in the eye, in his eyeball, where his eye was gone, and their only concern was "Don't take care of me, Doc." He said "Take care of Sergeant Pearce." Sergeant Pearce is one of the squad leaders, and unbeknownst to me at that time apparently what had happened was as the point element from our recon platoon was going up to an area where we were supposed to go, he ended up seeing a directional landmine being set up by the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese, I have no idea who they were, and they were about to detonate it on us. He tried clearing the people. In fact, he told the point squad to get out of the way. He threw himself on it and thus committing himself and dying honestly from the blast. He became the first noncommissioned Army officer to receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam on that day. So that was one of my first experiences. By virtue of me staying there and taking care of the injured, I ended up receiving the Army Commendation Medal with a V for Valor.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, before we move on into the area of why the actions that you received the Medal of Honor, I'd like to ask you what was your relationship with the men as a medic? You mentioned you had been with the recon patrol which was normally is not always the same medic but sometimes medics volunteer to go with particular elements. What was your relationship with the infantrymen?
CPT Rascon: Well, the irony of this whole thing was when I first got to Vietnam I didn't really want to stay with the medical platoon. I wanted to go out there; I wanted to be a combat medic. The first patrol that I went on was with a recon platoon, and by virtue of me going with them, it was just I guess love at first sight with each other, and we ended up staying with them. The recon platoon, I ended up being their only medic from 1965 until March 16th, 1966. In fact, literally the First Sergeant for the recon platoon came over and ended up requesting that I be assigned to them, literally with them, and that's what eventually ended up occurring was the fact that I ended up being the recon platoon medic, I ended up living with them, and lived with them, went on patrols with them, did everything with them. And that was one of the oddities at that time because most of the time those that were with the medical platoon would be assigned to a company, would go on a patrol, then come back and go back to the medical platoon. I ended up being the case in which I ended up with the recon platoon.
We had unique situation because first of all everything they did I ended up learning from them. I could fire an M-60 machine gun, I could break down every weapon they had, and I would go out on patrols with them. The irony of this whole thing at that time is, first of all, although I was a medic, the most important thing I was really, was a grunt, because in any given situation when there was a fire fight the first thing you became was literally an infantryman, until the time that somebody was injured. Then you became a medic, and that was your only job, to be a medic. So it was to be an infantryman, be a medic, survive, and keep on making sure that those that were with you who were injured, you kept them alive.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, many of the infantrymen that went through Vietnam, and those that I've interviewed from Korea and World War II often talk about that special relationship with the medic. Sometimes they refer to him, you know, because unfortunately the war, people get wounded severely, die on the battlefield, and some of them always refer to the medic as he's just not a medic, like you said, you're an infantryman. Some of them said that medic out there has the additional responsibilities of kind of like being the chaplain, listening to the soldier gripe, or his problems back home. Was this a true assessment by some of these people? I mean did you have the other additional responsibilities like this?
CPT Rascon: I think the irony; I think that's a factual statement to a point. Again, I ended up being a 19 year old kid. The people that were with me at that time were probably the same age, with the exception of probably the Platoon Sergeants, or the Sergeants who were maybe in their mid 20s, and we had a few who were older than that. But you were...the first thing you were was you were their doc. And nobody ever messed with your doc because that's what you were. The respect that you had for each other was like a family. They were always there for you because they knew that you were going to be there for them.
The irony of this whole thing was that at any given time they knew that somebody was either going to get injured or somebody would die. And they knew the fact that that medic would always be there for them, in spite of whether it was a good or a bad day, that person was always there for them.
You ended up being not necessarily a chaplain, but you ended up being a neutral force by the fact that you weren't part of the higher echelon, nor were you part of the lower echelon. You were basically somebody who was a neutral force, and could get away with a lot of things that other people couldn't. Your Platoon Sergeant, with us we had a Platoon Sergeant by the name of Jacob R. Cook, who had been with the airborne for many, many years, and he was an older Sergeant at that time. The recon platoon, the oddity that we had was that the recon platoon had been an organization that came from Okinawa, and it was two separate -- it was a recon platoon and also an Entac platoon, which was an old French missile that they had, that they had no need for in Vietnam, so they ended up merging, along with the ground surveillance radar platoon. So it was three platoons merged into one, and again the average platoon, if you end up looking nowadays, or at that time was maybe, what, 20, 40. Ours was basically a heavy recon platoon, or heavy platoon. We had two weapons which were two M-60s, which was unheard of at the time because usually you had one 60 with a recon platoon, I mean with a regular platoon. So we had two of everything. We were basically used as a mini-company. Everything that the regular companies did, we ended up doing the same thing with less people.
But, you know, the love we had for each other is something that never goes away. As you mentioned, it's something that we always had, and we carried it on even till February 7th, when I had seen the first, my people that I had not seen in 34 years. It was like we had not seen each other in two weeks. So it was pretty good.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, could you describe the type of medical equipment that you carried on a regular basis?
CPT Rascon: Sure. The irony, I mean the issue with me was that we ended up in Okinawa, and we would have the basic medical kit, which would be the M-3. The senior NCOs at the time would carry the M-5, which would be the larger medical aid bag. Our traditional missions in Okinawa were go to out with either a company on patrol, or end up going when there was a company activity or battalion activity, such as covering the drop zone, since we were paratroopers, or going out to the firing ranges and making sure that nobody ended up getting hurt, or providing literally house calls at the medical clinic we had, and doing that type of thing. By virtue of the fact that we were in Okinawa, we also had at times the ability to go out and train with Special Forces, or go to the hospital which was there, which was an Army hospital in Okinawa, and literally end up doing some type of administrative work, or be a functional medic at a hospital. Again, great benefits. But in Vietnam obviously we were all basic medics.
What I learned very quickly was the fact that somebody of my stature, like I said again of maybe five foot seven, is that you end up carrying an M-3 bag and sometimes the M-3 bag wasn't enough and you had to modify your needs for what the environment was, and you couldn't carry the M-5 bag because again, it was way too big, and it wasn't practical, especially in the jungles when you end up humping. So I became I guess a person who ended up modifying things by the environment that I was in like I mentioned earlier before. The first thing I ended up noticing was the fact that I couldn't carry my medical supplies. I couldn't carry my basic load of ammunition, which again in Vietnam obviously we were not a -- well the Army didn't -- I'm sorry, not the Army but the US was not in agreement with what the Vietnamese were doing as far as signing the treaty for mandating that I was going to be a medic and not carry any arms. So most of the medics that we had either carried their 45s. The 45 was way too heavy. Couldn't carry too many rounds. So I carried an M-16 with 300 rounds as a basic load, or more at times. So you ended up carrying your M-3 bag, which again sometimes I ended up using. I think that once the M-5 bag, I tried that and that was useless. So I ended up having to modify everything. Along with that you also ended up having to carry your basic load of food. And also, since I was with a recon platoon, sometimes you had to carry somebody else's ammo, like M-60 rounds, or other equipment.
So I very quickly, as I mentioned before, I couldn't carry everything. One of the quick, one of the first things I did was with the medical kit. I took out what I knew I would need when we were out on patrols, which were again things like to stop the bleeding with, compress bandages, anything that I could help them with as far as having foot injuries or minor injuries. But the other thing that was very critical to us at that time was a blood expander, which was serum albumin. Serum albumin to us was something that was very critical to me. The problem was that they came in pints, and I couldn't carry that many, so I ended up asking, actually didn't end up asking, I went to my Platoon Sergeant. I said "Hey, Sergeant Cook, I want everybody to carry one or two blood expanders." They pissed and moaned about it for about two minutes. In fact I told them "Well, you guys have a choice. You guys can carry this and if you don't carry this I'm not taking care of you next time you guys get shot." So I had a very quick agreement, the fact that they were going to do what I wanted to do, even if I was an E-4.
But what we ended up doing, I made sure that everybody had the serum albumin. Literally they were encased in a hard cardboard container, and I made sure that everybody had one on the back of their rucksacks, which we had, the recon platoon had, and they were taped, so immediately when somebody was wounded, or somebody -- either that person was wounded or somebody else, we could immediately remove that from that person and end up utilizing it. We had that.
The other problem that I had at that time was the fact that as a medic again I couldn't take all my medical aid equipment that I wanted to, so I ended up teaching everybody from my recon platoon in basic medical techniques -- stop the bleeding, clear the airway, apply a compress or whatever it was, dressing, and each individual carried his own basic little first aid kit, but the first aid kit was really for the fact that in case they were injured or wounded they could end up doing that. Senior NCOs, I made sure that everybody carried quarter grain morphine syrettes, which were readily available and everybody had them, and they knew how to use them, they knew how to give them to people. So that ended up taking care of another need that I had.
Also what ended up occurring at that time, again this is 1965, we're doing a lot of things by the seat of our pants. I ended up, in fact I think the first fire fight we had, when one of the first persons was injured like probably before September 20th, we ended up with an individual who ended up with heat stroke, and we're all running around trying to figure out what we were going to carry him in. The ponchos that we had, if anybody carried one, that's what we had to use. A lot of times we didn't have that, so we had to modify something as far as a stretcher.
Well, one of the things I did find out or that I did see the fact that when we were in Vung Tau, we were next to a irregular Vietnamese police force. In fact I think it might have been the police academy at that time. And I saw that the Vietnamese had literally hammocks that were made out of nylon, probably seven feet in length, and probably two and a half to three feet in width. So I came back and I ended up asking my Platoon Sergeant, I said "Sergeant Cook, is it possible to end up getting some money from each of the individuals in order for me to go back and buy hammocks for everybody?" And the first thing was that we don't need hammocks. I said "Yeah, you do. It's not for what you think it is." What I ended up doing with the hammocks, I ended up modifying them and I ended up putting handles, four handles, two on each side, and actually two handles on the front and back, in other words, to the foot and the front, and literally I had a stretcher, but at the same time what I had for them was a ready to go hammock. So it was a bargain for everybody, and it was easy to carry. So that was another remedy that I ended up dealing with when I had to carry somebody out.
And again we ended up modifying the rucksacks for them to carry their needs, and it was something that was really critical. The other thing, we made sure, or I made sure that I trained them in was the fact that they could apply a tourniquet, and also made sure at that time everybody is to carry a rubber tube, and the rubber tube was basically we ended up applying it to the person when you're applying the syrette, or you're trying to insert the serum albumin, the blood expander.
The other thing that I had a real difficult time with was the fact that the serum albumin packets at that time, we had a 12 gauge needle which is basically like a blunt instrument trying to stick it into somebody, but I ended up teaching them the fact that they could do it. I think it was comical at times, you end up seeing these big macho guys, you ended up seeing somebody sticking somebody with a needle they turn into a little meek little guy. But they ended up doing that, they became quite good at that.
Interviewer: Amongst all this additional medical training you're giving your fellow soldiers, what about IVs?
CPT Rascon: The IV was a predominant problem we had at that time. Again, an intravenous -- anytime we ended up with a situation where somebody was shot, obviously the first thing you have either the person is going to go into shock. Obviously if somebody goes into shock the blood vessels obviously would contract, and you really couldn't get anything in. The darnedest problem that I had was, in fact, that I wished at that time they would have had a smaller gauge needle, but obviously the larger needle was sometimes a problem. A good example was the day that Sergeant Pearce literally was dying, was the fact that I couldn't find anyplace to insert a needle, and finally it got to the point where literally I stripped his boots and I ended up, you know, sticking a -- with the IV I think in one of his legs. But again it was a very difficult situation for us. But the people that I had with me, those with the recon platoon, knew how to insert IVs, which I think was pretty good for them. Especially being grunts.
Interviewer: Looking back at, you know, at that particular point, and you mentioned how you overcame the problem with sometimes a very heavy and very difficult item to carry with the litter. When you came back out off an operation, did you have to report back to the battalion surgeon, or, you know, discuss how everything went, tell him what you did, those kind of things?
CPT Rascon: Ironically back in 1965 that was unknown. I mean you would come back, either you'd come back with the company or me with the recon platoon, get back and it was just like being part of that recon platoon or part of that company. You would be literally infused into that company or that recon platoon. I would come back, make sure that I cleaned my weapon; make sure that my medical needs were, my medical packets were filled back up. I would go back to the battalion, the CP, and go back to the medical platoon and grab whatever goods I needed, and go back to the recon platoon. But there was never a debriefing. There was never anything at all that remotely ended up meeting those needs at all.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, did your medical training prepare you for combat?
CPT Rascon: That's a very good question. I think I have to come back and reflect as to what was going on back in 1963. Again, 1963, when I ended up arriving at Fort Sam Houston, I think I might have just turned 18. I wasn't sure. But you're looking at an 18 year old young man, or a 17 year old man, who basically is in a daze by the fact that the person had joined the military. In my case. I'm not saying that ends up being for everybody. But you end up in an environment in which you're still in the military, and you ended up going through basic, I guess at that time it used to be the basic corpsman training, or basic aidman training. No matter, it was eight weeks. You know, take somebody's temperature, do this and do that. Then you end up taking the medical specialist training, which is really geared more for working in the hospital. But the environment of the combat medic was one in which you deal with the modification of what's going on in the environment in which you're in, and you end up being either a self learner or you don't.
The other benefit we had was the fact that once you left basic training, or once you left your AIT training, the unit that you went to was really going to be the pivotal point as to whether you're going to learn or not. The benefit that I had was again, as I mentioned before, in Okinawa we ended up being in a very diversified area in which we were constantly going out with the troops, we were huffing and humping in the jungles, and again that could apply to basic first aid technique but again you would learn from the other medics as to what you couldn't do and what you could do. And that's one of the critical things that I did end up learning is the fact that you're only as good as somebody else, and what somebody else is going to teach you. So I learned from others. The thing was that at that time doing basic corpsman issues, or basic medical specialist training for us was taking care of somebody as far as being a suture specialist, and that's one of the things we had. We all became pretty good at suturing people back in those days. We would work with the doctor who was a battalion surgeon, and he would let us do certain things that other people I guess would not let us do nowadays. We had people who were really good at doing suturing the people's hands. Then we had people who had a good hand and they would end up suturing somebody in the face. We knew how to diagnose basic medical problems. We knew how to come back and give people -- we could come back and deal with somebody's cold. We could deal with somebody who had basically a venereal disease. All those things were fine. We could also deal with somebody who had food poisoning and other minor maladies. And that was something again you learned from your friends. But once you got into the environment of what you learned at Fort Sam Houston, and once you got out to the environment in a combat zone was a different ballpark, because first of all you end up facing a situation in which you're there to take care of somebody, but there's organized chaos as I come back and stated this time and again, for somebody shooting at you, you're shooting back at the enemy, there's hollering, there are trees falling behind you. You end up hearing the enemy yelling in Vietnamese and you end up hearing bugles at times. You end up hearing whistles blowing. You end up hearing somebody yell "Doc, medic," at that time. And, you know, are you prepared for that? You end up with an environment with which, example, we were hit by a battery of 105s by mistake, and immediately I ended up with I think eight wounded, two dead. Being the only medic with those individuals, it was very difficult for me to try to take care of everything. You ended up being all things to all people, but in reality you're just a human being with faults. A young human being with faults.
And I had individuals that I was trying to take care of, and I was so concerned with somebody else, but luckily I had those who were with me who I had trained, and they were able to do a lot of things that I would not have been able to come back and take care of myself at that time. But you had to come back and make decisions as to whether somebody had passed the point of no return, and let that person die. And that did happen on one or two occasions in which I had an individual that I knew if I went back and took care of that person, I was going to waste my time, which would have been critical for me to try to save somebody else's life. You had to make that decision, and that happened more than once.
As to whether it came back and impacted on my life, it never bothered me because again it was something that I knew that they would have done the same thing for me if I were dying. They would just let me go and take care of some of the living. And that was really the strength that we had, or the bond we had with us.
But I think the training that we had here did not prepare us for that, and I think that's something that you can't really prepare for. But I think it's something that they have to be very much attuned to. They have to be attuned to the fact that you have to be prepared for an environment in which you're not ready for it. You have to be prepared to fight. You have to be prepared to survive, not for yourself but for those that are injured, and for the fact that if you don't survive it's one less person to come back and fight on the battlefield.
You ended up having to come back and understand the fact that a course here, which ends up being a techie course, but in fact it's in a nice environment, is not what in reality happens, because somebody is yelling at you. You can't come back, you've got a rucksack on your back, and you’re wearing a steel pot. But with me, the fact that I used to wear glasses and it used to be a really bad situation because you're sweating, you can't see, your glasses are fogged up, or later on contacts, which I wore all my life, trying to deal with contacts in an environment, how am I going to come back and take care of an individual, how can I come back and care, did I want to, unless you came back and made them part of your little world.
Other situations that arose were heat stroke and sun stroke. You ended up dealing with a person who was going to go into stroke, and you recognize the signs, but you ended up being with your hands tied literally because you knew this guy was either going to go into shock, and once he went into shock you're SOL because how are you going to get him out? Give you an example. We did a river crossing one day, and everybody was literally, I'm talking about being dog tired, and once we ended up reaching the river that we were going, that end of the river, we ended up having to hump an area probably about 50 yards, but it was hot, and it was during the summer, and one of our guys went into heat stroke, or I thought he was going into heat stroke. More than likely sun stroke. But the situation we had, although we had the river there, this person was a knucklehead and didn't have enough water with him. And I ended up giving him probably half of my canteen. I carried two canteens, plus a bladder which was another quart. That was one of the things I made sure that everybody carried water, made sure that everybody had their fluids and they were talking their fluids and their salt tablets, and also their malaria tablets. But this person went in, or starting going into shock on me, and I was asking people for water. They said "Hell no, we're not going to give him any water, the guy's an idiot." Well, the guy wasn't an idiot. It's somebody who made a mistake. But immediately you come back and you put the fear in the guy even if you're an E-4. You tell him, "All right, if the thing hits the fan I'm not taking care of you." Well, I immediately ended up with water and everybody came back and took care of the guy. But I wasn't really ready for somebody to go into shock. I wasn't sure whether I was going to make that person reliable. I gave him an IV, which I knew that was the right thing to do. But again I wasn't sure whether that was my medical training or something that I had learned.
Also the other thing, civic action programs. Luckily that I had been with the 173rd, we had been in the Philippines and Okinawa and Taiwan, and the old phisohex surgical scrubs, you know, all things to all people, that used to be one of the things we used to come back and do. And I remember dealing with people out in Vietnam, and you're able to deal with people and try to take care of them, but you couldn't do all things to all people. You ended up having to learn about the fact that you could end up using certain -- well, certain type of medications you could end up using, but I think you had to be a pharmacist or you had to be a medical doctor to know what they were for, but again you end up learning by the school of hard knocks, but the fact that you saw what the doctor was doing, or you copied what a Spec Five had done who had been probably with Special Forces. Things you were not trained to do, but they were things you could do because again you were there to learn. And that was a constant situation. Again the environment as to where you were. You had to know who your people were too. As you mentioned about the fact that at times you ended up being the chaplain. Well, in part you were, because at times people would come up to you and would try to take advantage of you because they knew who you were, like "Oh, hey, Doc, you know, I can't really go out this week on patrol." Well, BS. That person I knew could go out, and that Platoon Sergeant would let me as an E-4 make that decision. And I think that was again the love for each other that we had, and the respect for each other.
Again, when you're in a combat environment, the other thing that nobody taught me was the fact that trauma by an M-16, trauma by an M-14, or a mouzer, or a 7.62 from a Russian, or a Chinese AK-47, it's going to do the damn-damn on somebody, and I didn't realize that until the first time I ended up seeing somebody physically hit.
Good example. We had an individual who I went to, and I didn't realize the fact that this guy was dying until the guy started going blue on me. I said this guy got hit. Immediately what you do as a medic, which again I don't know whether I was trained to do that or not, was again touchy feely, to make sure there's nothing on that person. You got to find out where the person entry wound, where the exit wound is. Well, I couldn't find either. I knew this person was dying. I don't know whether the guy had swallowed a hot dog or something. Obviously in Vietnam in the jungles a guy didn't do that. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that the person had gotten an AK-47 round literally through the belt buckle, dead center, went dead center to the belly button, and it either went around the spine or literally through the spine in through the central mass area, because I finally felt a bump in the back and I thought it was the spine. In reality it was the AK-47 that was protruding from that area.
Or you end up seeing wounds, in which somebody would be hit by artillery, and you end up seeing an entry point, and you couldn't see an exit point, but obviously the weapon, I mean the round had gone in, went around the guy's skull and came out of the same place. Traumatic. That person that I ended up taking care of that day, that was dying on me, I thought the guy, didn't know what was wrong, you end up giving the guy mouth to mouth resuscitation. The guy winds up barfing in your face, in your mouth, and you get on with your life. That's one of the things they didn't train me for.
Also there were situations in which literally you're numb as to what's going on, and you have to make yourself get a reality check, and get on with your life. And also I think what's critical to a medic is that medics are going to get shot, and there comes a time as to how long can you come back and do your job and when do you succumb to your own injuries.
The day that I was hit for the first time, on September 20th, when I was hit in the forearm, I mean I thought I was dying. I mean literally nothing happened to me, I mean but it stung like hell, and I remember being flipped over, and I did two and a half spins. I thought I was dead. Nothing happened to me. It was just literally a graze, but your mind is telling you something.
The day we were hit by our own artillery, I remember being hit, and I remember the artillery landing on us, and I remember our sergeant yelling "Oh, my God, incoming." And that was the end of it. Next thing I knew total quiet, and probably within two seconds thereafter you could hear the cries. How are you ready to deal with that when you end up seeing one of your friends dying, when you end up seeing a Platoon Sergeant or a squad leader or somebody else literally dying in your hands? Or you hear that person yelling for his mother. Or you hear somebody, you know, blood gurgling. You don't become aware of that. You have to decentralize yourself from that person.
Then again, is that a traumatic situation for you later on? No, I remember that Vietnam lives with me every day of my life, but again as a 19 year old kid I think I was able to deal with it a lot better. The day that I was hit, on September 20th, it was bad. It was after the second time when these other guys were hit. To this day I don't remember. Obviously I must have gone back and I did take care of the guy whose eye was missing, and also the guy whose forearm was gone. I was able to do something with those individuals.
The other thing you had to deal with was the fact that how much time did you have until you ended up with some medical attention to them. The good thing we had in Vietnam was that probably within somebody, within an hour or less when somebody was hit, we had a medical evac helicopter there, and sometimes these guys were stupid as heck because they would get into an environment that I would never have arrived into, to get you out. That's just the way you did things. We had people getting injured when they were going out to help somebody else.
I ended up seeing persons who had been blown up by their own hand grenades, and you had to deal with it.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, when did you find out that you were going to receive the Medal of Honor?
CPT Rascon: Oh god, this is what, probably sometime in late November 1999. But officially to this day I've never been notified by the Army.
Interviewer: Could you describe the circumstances that led to or that particular action that you were involved with, that led to you being awarded the Medal of Honor?
CPT Rascon: Somewhat. What ends up happening, this ends up being early March 1966, and it was an operation called Operation Silver City. It was an operation literally being orchestrated by the 1st Infantry Division, but with a big part from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The 173rd Airborne Brigade, in 1965, had 1st and 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne with them, to include the 1st Royal Australian Regiment, Infantry Regiment with them from the Australians were also attached to us, and also we had a gun battery of New Zealanders that were attached to us. This operation was to go into War Zone D, and go into a particular area in Long Khanh Province, and look for I think two North Vietnamese regiments that were in that area, operating in that area. I think the operation probably started sometime around March 9th or March 7th, with the heliborne assault, then also a river crossing which I think we were involved in. What happened probably within the first four or five days we, the 1st 503rd, the companies within 1st 503rd, and also the recon platoon, were finding large caches of weapons, munitions, and also at times medical supplies, a radio center, and also food stuffs. This had gone on for quite a while without really running into any type of enemy contact, other than one or two individuals who had come back the next morning to see what we were doing. And that kept on occurring for the first four or five days.
On the 15th of March, late that afternoon, we had found one large cache of weapons late in the afternoon, and the oddity with this cache was the fact that we found thousands and thousands of nine millimeter rounds, also mortar rounds, and also AK-47s, and other types of weapons to include MAT 49s, which was the French submachine gun used when the French were there during the late 1940s, and up until 1952, '53, when Dien Bien Phu occurred, and it was a paratrooper's machine gun with a folding stock, and [unclear]. This was late in the afternoon. I had a very, very bad feeling about what was going on. So did everybody else, but it was just ironic that we weren't running into the enemy forces at all. So probably by around four o'clock that afternoon we went back and reported it back that we had found a large weapons cache, and probably either at that time or the night before we had found another cache, and one of the persons within my recon platoon, after, and you know the typical GI, when they tell them not to do something, that's exactly that he's going to do. They told him don't stick your hand in the rice, and that's what he did, he ended up blowing his butt up. He wasn't really hurt that well, I mean that bad. He ended up breaking I think his wrist, and a forearm, and more than anything else I think he was more fearful of being yelled at by the Platoon Sergeant, but we ended up having to medivac that person and he was medivaced in the old Air Force H-34, which was a dual prop helicopter that ended up bringing people in from the rear. We ended up taking that person out, so that was my first injury that we had. And I think also when we first did the river assault we had an individual that ended up with heat stroke. That's when they didn't want to give me water for what they called the moron, until I ended up threatening them that I was not going to take care of them if they got injured. Threats go a long way, especially when you're a medic.
But March 15th happens. We go back and we ended up coming back with an engineer platoon to go back and blow up the munitions, and nobody wanted to go back over there. In fact, we wanted to leave the stuff there, but they told us to go back and bring back whatever we could, and the rest of it blow it in place. Just scary. And probably on the 16th, probably at about 1:30 in the morning, we heard some mortar rounds going off, and I happened to be looking at the wood line, beautiful sparks and everything else, it was Willie Peter that was going off, white phosphorous. Early in the morning, at exactly, in fact it was six o'clock in the morning we heard all hell break loose. I mean, you know, it was literally we could hear a massive fire fight going on, and it was our sister battalion, the 2nd 503rd, they were in their landing zone called Zulu Zulu, and basically the best way to describe this is put yourself in a mini football field, and on the periphery of the football field, that's where the 2nd 503rd is. They're securing landing zone Zulu Zulu. Around them, literally surrounding them, is a North Vietnamese reinforced regiment. At six o'clock in the morning, or a few minutes before that, the 2nd 503rd was going to go out on probing patrols, and they were going to send out probably three quarters of their element to go out and search. Well, and five percent of the North Vietnamese that didn't get the word like a good GI, there was a helicopter that was about to land, and the helicopter landed and this individual prematurely opened up with a 52 caliber on the helicopter, shot it down. And later on they found the individual had been literally chained to a tree. Had not that person shot down that helicopter, I think the 503rd would have bit the dust, but virtue of them shooting the helicopter down the fire fight started, and they were able to come back and stay in their perimeter.
We heard that. Then we went out and still did some other probing patrols. We went out and found another cache of weapons I think this time. Then at about nine o'clock in the morning, the decision was made for two of the companies from the 1st 503rd to go to the assistance of the 2nd 503rd, and they probably ended up leaving sometime around 12 o'clock by the time they had decided that they were going to leave.
We ended up staying in the area. Went back and policed up what we could from that cache we had found that day. Then probably, oh I guess about 1:30 they ended up committing the other two companies, to include the recon platoon, and as usual the recon platoon was up in the front. I very distinctly
remember the fact that as we were headed to the 2nd Battalion area, once we got in probably within 400 meters of that area, they ended up asking us to get our butts in gear and hustle up there. We had the two companies behind us, and we were dog tired because I mean they really had us humping, and we ended up running in some areas where they had napalmed because I remember very distinctly to this day it was the fact we kept on running into soot, and airplane glue, which was the napalm gel.
Then, oh I don't know, I guess about ten minutes to three we ended up finding all of a sudden bodies, North Vietnamese bodies, two, three, four, five, and some of them being stacked. We found masses of bandages, and bloodied gauzes. And the only thing I could come back and surmise in fact that it was
probably a given was the fact that during the fire fight that was going on with the 2nd 503rd, the North Vietnamese who were being killed, were being removed from the area, which is one of the traditional things they were doing, and I guess we were running into their rear flank, or that area, and right at
three o'clock in the afternoon, or four, I really can't remember what time it was, but I know it was either three or four, the point squad from the recon platoon, under the leadership of Ray Compton, an E-5, stopped everybody. You know, traditionally the fact that I was a recon, that I was a medic with them,
I was always someplace up towards the front, or where the platoon was, or I mean platoon leader was, or either the Platoon Sergeant was. And Sergeant Compton stopped everybody, came back and told us that up to the front we had North Vietnamese setting up an ambush, an L shaped ambush, because we were near a road, or a small trail. He mentioned the fact that they were in pith helmets, AK-47s, SK-6s, and they were setting up a machine gun nest, and to the fact they were in khaki uniforms and also dark green uniforms, and obviously if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, we knew they were North Vietnamese.
And immediately what we were going to do, we were going to come back and ambush the ambushees. The irony of this whole thing again was the fact they ended up bringing up, somebody yelled for a machine gunner, so they ended up bringing two machine guns. Again, traditionally in a platoon you only have one, but the fact we were recon composite we had two, and somehow we ended up with both machine guns up to the front, which I never knew. And they ended up asking a grenadier to move up front, which was Neil Haffey, a PFC, which he did.
I don't know what happened, either he fired the M-79 to where the North Vietnamese were, and as I was told by Haffey, Neil had fired the M-79, and I don't think the M-79 projectile had not cleared the tube yet when they opened up on us, and immediately what happens, the best way to describe this is you come back and put yourself in a one lane bowling alley. Where the pins are, that's where the North Vietnamese is, on that area, probably 180 degrees, to include a machine gun nest, and also the security aspect of them, or the other people. And where the point, I mean where the bowler is, that ends up being also part of the trail, but somehow, I don't know what happened, we ended up with one of the M-60 machine gunners, Thompson, who ended up on the trail, and to this day I have no idea, nor does anybody else have any idea how he got there, but he was on the trail.
Fire fight breaks out, and where you're at, that's where you laid. Immediately I heard somebody yell "Doc," and I went forward and I was stopped by Sergeant Cook, and I very distinctly remember Sergeant Cook saying, "Doc, you better not go up there or you're going to get killed. Wait until they have cover fire for you." I said "Okay." And I made my way forward. Immediately what I remember was the fact that the intensity of this thing was just phenomenal. You could hear the machine guns going off. You could hear us firing. You could hear hand grenades going off. You could hear yelling, which was a typical fire fight. And you could smell the cordac [sp] from the hand grenades going off, and you could smell the oil from the M-60s going off, and it was just a very, very intense moment. Trees were falling behind me. People were yelling. You could hear the North Vietnamese. You could hear them talking. You could hear them blowing their whistles. You could hear the guys just really being agitated, as we were also.
And I ended up moving to the left side, I'm sorry, to the right side of that one lane bowling alley area, and as I got there I realized that Thompson -- Thompson is probably six foot four -- was literally laying on the trail with his M-60 pointed towards the enemy, and I think somebody had tried going to him.
Nobody could move to him. And I very, very distinctly remember the fact that I was on the side of the trail, looking up and firing, and I could see and hear hand grenades going off everyplace, and people yelling. I don't know whether I told somebody I was going to go after Thompson or not, but I tried two or three times to get to him, and the fire was just so much that I couldn't do anything. And I don't know whether out of stupidity or what happened, I just moved, made my way up in fact and ended up literally between his legs, between his crotch, on the trail itself, being exposed to the enemy. Nothing was happening, I wasn't being touched, but I could feel Thompson being hit by either small caliber, or being hit by the machine gun, and every time he would get hit, every time he was being hit his body literally was like jelly, you could feel like jelly shaking on him. And I didn't know where he was hit, and I tried grabbing his head. Couldn't grab his head. In order for me to look at him, make sure he was okay, and to protect him, I literally turned around and put my body to the enemy, and I'm facing him face forward, and at that time I realized he had been hit like five times probably in basically the thorax and the head and he was gone. And probably at the same time they're still throwing hand grenades. Never was touched by a hand grenade. Immediately I was hit by some fragments. At the same time I was hit in the upper hip, got butt shot, and I didn't realize it but apparently it went up, hit my hip, it ricocheted within my hip, went up my spine, and came out of my shoulder blade. That didn't hurt. I mean I think I had other things to do at that time, and somehow I ended up getting off, I got him off the trail, and he's to the right side of the trail, half way down the trail, and pulled him off the trail. And all hell was still breaking loose. I think anybody who was able to get more than a foot off the ground was dead because that's how, because that machine gun was firing, knocking everything down. But then to my right, probably, if I'm looking at myself at 12 o'clock, probably at about three o'clock was our second machine gunner. At that time a VC by the name of Larry Gibson, who's now a Sergeant Major with the National Guard, but at that time Gibson was firing his M-60 and I noticed the fact that he was hit in back of the leg. Made my way to him, trying to give him aid, and Gibson kept on telling me, "Goddamnit Doc, get the hell away from me." I don't know how many times he yelled at me. Very, very bad. I laugh about it now. And I remember the fact that I was trying to take care of his wounds. He said "Goddamnit, Doc, get away from me." I said "But you're shot." He said "I don't give a shit whether I'm shot or not. Doc, get away from me, I'm trying to provide you cover fire." You know, mental midget that I am at that time, but my concern was for him. And I did end up ripping his pant and I realized the fact that he was shot, he had a flesh wound. You know, if you get yelled enough, then you get the point, and I said "Okay, you're okay." He said "Yeah, goddamnit, Doc, I'm okay." So I left him alone. And then I made my way again towards the center of not exactly where the bowling alley was, you want to call it, but around that area looking for anybody else who was wounded.
They were throwing hand grenades, I mean we were throwing them, they were throwing them, and I saw a hand grenade, two hand grenades go off from afar. Then immediately I was hit in the face. And again whether this is the story or not, I really can't, you know, the time sequence is not really there but I remember being hit in the face, and I think the worst thing about being hit in the face was that I'm very cognizant about the fact that it hit, it's like shaving, once you cut yourself in the face you're going to bleed a lot. Well, that theory wasn't working in my tiny teeny little head at that time. It was the fact that immediately when I was hit in the face my face was swollen, and I thought I had lost the right side of my face, or left side of my face, because all I could see was blood literally just coming out, and I felt like somebody had slapped me with a baseball bat, and I thought somebody like those comic books, where your head goes around in circles, and it was stinging and it was hurting. But the worst thing about it was that my mouth was literally swollen and I couldn't talk. I said oh my god, you know, I'm dying. And then I ended up getting my composure and realized the fact that I wasn't about to die, that it was my face, and I was going to be okay. But I very distinctly remember looking at one of the recon guys who was looking at me. His eyes were like big cue balls when he looked at me, and that didn't help me. Then I literally had to come back and I remember trying to take deep breaths and trying to get my composure. I said hey listen, you got to get on with your life here, you got other people to take care of. But in reality I think I wanted to go home. I mean I was afraid. Anybody who was not afraid in Vietnam, or in any war, is really an idiot. But I very distinctly remember the fact that I was bleeding.
Then probably what ends up happening, there's a hand grenade or two hand grenades that go off, and I see them going over my head, and I heard them go off. That was it. I could see by this time where the North Vietnamese are with the machine gun, probably within 15 feet of them, to their right side. Right off the little trail there is Neil Haffey, the grenadier who fired the first round. Unbeknownst to me when Haffey had fired the first round, that's where he laid and that's where he stayed, and it got to the point all he did was just fire one 79 round, and from then on he was firing at the enemy with his 45, which didn't really help.
Well, I saw Haffey, and I saw a North Vietnamese literally pop him with an AK-47 from probably 20 feet at the most. Ends up being hit, and apparently what happened, Haffey was trying to crawl to a better position, when he was hit in the back. At the same time maybe two or three hand grenades were thrown at him, probably within five or six feet of him, and probably one really close. I made my way to him and I didn't realize the fact I never got touched by the machine gun nest, never got shot by the guys who were shooting around him, and I tackled him to the ground, and covered him, and that's when the hand grenades went off, and that's all I remember, was the fact that I remember hanging on to him, and I remember he's being thrown up in the air. I was hit by the hand grenades. I think I was hit in the back. I was hit in the legs, but it wasn't anything minor, I mean nothing critical, or I didn't think it was critical. And I remember Haffey yelling, he kept on yelling "Doc, we're all going to die." He said "They're going to kill us all." He said "Doc, they're all going to kill us." And I said I remembered that but I wasn't really aware of that until Haffey wrote his affidavit, and that's what he said that's what I did. That's what he was yelling. He said he thought we were all going to die because literally they had us. And I told him "Shut the F up, we're all going to be all right." But I didn't realize that Haffey laughs about it today. He said "Doc, you know, you're trying to tell me that everything's going to be all right." I said "Don't worry; I said I'll take care of you." And his real concern was the fact that the guy behind me, when the hand grenade went off before me, I didn't realize that somebody had been injured behind me. It was an individual by the name of Spec 4 Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis was this guy's best friend, and what happened, he saw him get hit with a hand grenade, and he told me, he said he saw the hand grenade land in front of Lewis' feet. He had looked at Lewis, Lewis looked at him, or he thought he did, and the hand grenade went off. At that time he was trying to make himself into better cover when he got hit by the AK-47, and he said that I ended up telling him everything was going to be all right, but now he tells me that I was lying to him. He says I was trying to tell him everything was all right, he said "But your face is bleeding, Doc." He said it was literally covered with blood. He said "I think you were lying to me that day." He laughs about it. And I said "You're going to be all right, just stay where you are, don't move." And I made sure that where he had been hit, that the round was literally a good clean round. They had basically shot him in the butt, to the fleshy part, and went out, so there was no, I mean other than just I'm sure trauma and I'm sure it hurt like hell but he was all right.
So I left him there. I couldn't give him an IV, I couldn't do anything with him because again the environment and situation in which I was in didn't permit you that. But I did make sure he was all right, and told him to lay there. And I made him a promise that I would go back and look at Lewis, to see how Lewis was. And I don't know how I made my way back to Lewis. Lewis was to the rear, right at the edge of the bowling alley where the bowler was. And I got to Lewis and Lewis was dead. Never got touched. Nothing at all happened. Then another hand grenade went off and I think I got hit again by some shrapnel. Then I could hear everybody yelling at one time or another "Take cover, Doc, take cover, Doc." And again, the sequences of events are disjointed but I remember the fact that after I ended up taking care of Haffey, everything is like, everything went into slow motion. In fact, when I was hit in the face, that's one of the things that ended up, I told people that everything stops. I mean time literally stopped for me, and I was able to come back and hear myself, and I could hear, and everything going in slow motion. In fact, I think the whole fire fight was in slow motion for me.
So I went back, made sure Lewis was okay, which he wasn't. Nothing was going on with me at all. And I remember the M-60 machine gun that was laying on the trail, and I said "Oh Jesus Christ, the enemy is going to get the machine gun." And I think I remember at one time, when I was in between Thompson's
legs, that I made myself "Oh hell, I want to get this M-60 machine gun, I'm going to get the M-60 and I'm going to come back and save the platoon firing." Then I remembered very quickly that I was a medic and left everything there.
Somehow I ended up going back on the edge of the trail, and I could hear Gibson again, good old Gibson, yelling "Cover doc, cover doc, he's going after the M-60 machine gun." I guess he sensed that I was. And I got back on the trail. Never got touched. Nothing. Grabbed the M-60, and I'm literally
crawling I think by that time, grabbed the M-60 and I remember grabbing the 200 or 400 rounds of ammo that were there, in two of the canisters, and grabbing a spare barrel and trying to figure out how in the heck I'm going to carry all this thing off. Dragged it off and there was a guy there that I gave it to.
Then I went back looking for other people that were injured. Again, I'm talking about an environment in which you couldn't move. I mean everything was so intense. It was, you know, still trees going off, still people yelling, and hand grenades still going off and organized chaos is going on. When I saw
Sergeant Compton, the point squad leader who had found the first NVA, he had been already wounded once from what I remember, and I was on my way, I was headed towards him when they threw I think three or four hand grenades at him. And I made my way to him, I jumped on him and I covered him this time when the hand grenades went off. All I remember is the fact that I woke up. Well Gibson and another guy ended up telling me, he said what happened was that I jumped on top of Compton, covered him, and that's when the hand grenades went off, and literally blew us up in the air. And they said that I was bleeding from my face, and also from my mouth and ears. I apparently had ruptured my ear drums. And I member that I made sure that Compton was all right, and he was also pretty well banged up, more than anything else from the concussion. And his injury to his arm was okay.
Then I could hear some of our own guys finally making their way forward, and just as quickly as it started, all of a sudden everything went quiet. It probably lasted 15, 20 minutes. In my mind it probably lasted about five. I remember everything being quiet. I remember that where I was injured wasn't a point of contention, other than my face. My face was the focal point. I didn't realize the fact that I was bleeding a lot from the back. I didn't care. My face was the only thing I was concerned about.
Then the fire fight terminates and somehow somebody ended up grabbing me and they ended up putting me in one area and I went back and treated. We had people wounded. I made sure that every one of the persons that I had not seen were all taken care of, and made sure that their wounds were all right, and
gave them, those who were injured and needed to be given IVs were given IVs, and those that had to be taken care of as far as giving them syrettes of morphine, that that's what they were done.
Then I remember that we were probably within three -- maybe 150 yards away from 2nd Battalion area. Next thing I remember is I remember coming out of the clearing to the 2nd Battalion area, and they're carrying me, and I remember a photographer, now I know his name is Jim Cage, was to my left and to the front, taking photographs like mad, and I didn't want this person to see me the way I was. I tried to walk in there and they said that was a big joke because apparently I couldn't walk. And he ended up taking photographs. I remember the fact that I was put in a helicopter and probably the helicopter flew for about five seconds, actually probably flew for less than 30 seconds. What it did, it went to the clearing station for the battalion, and I was taken off the helicopter, still in my fatigues, and I had my M-16, and I remember that very clearly because I was still hanging on to that thing. And they stick me in a CP tent on a sawhorse, and I remember the doctor that came to see me was our battalion surgeon, and his eyes about popped out when he realized it was one of his medics, and the first thing he did was I guess they stabilized me, and immediately again I'm trying to tell him about my face. Nobody cares about my face. And they just came back and looked at my back and made sure that everything was all right, and they gave me some IVs. They were afraid of giving me any type of a sedative because they weren't sure what was wrong with my back.
I remember being put on another helicopter, and I remember landing. Now it's the 93rd Field Evac Hospital, I didn't know what it was at that time, land at the 93rd Field Evac Hospital, and immediately there was a nurse or two nurses that came running, also some of the corpsmen or some of the medics came up, took me off the helicopter, put me on their stretcher, and the next thing that I felt was very humiliating to me was the fact that immediately they start stripping my clothes with scissors. And to this day I remember hanging on to my M-16 and literally I mean I'm stripped naked and they're trying to put a sheet over me. I remember the nurse telling me, said that I had other things to worry about than trying to hang on to my M-16.
Then from there they ended up taking me to the triage area, and I could see that's what that was in there. I could see the soldiers on stretchers laying here, and I was put someplace in the middle, so I knew I was okay. Woke up the next morning, surgery, and one of the distinct things I remember was the fact that I was in clean sheets, and I was drowsy, and I thought I was back in the States because they were playing music. We didn't have any radios at that time. What happened during the time that we were out in the bush, Armed Forces Radio and TV Service, AFRTS, whatever it is, had come on station. And they were planning Monday, Monday, or California Dreaming, that's why I thought I was back in the States. But I saw the guy to my right; he had more IV tubes than I had ever seen in my life. What happened he was a North Vietnamese. Then I realized that I wasn't back in the States.
Stayed there for about five or six days. The recon platoon comes back. Immediately Sergeant Cook and the rest of them came up to see how I was doing. They told me the other guys were okay. About a week later some of my E-4s came back and snuck me out of the hospital with IVs in me.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, you were talking about being in the 93rd Evacuation Hospital, and you had already been operated on, and you talk about some of your fellow soldiers out of the recon platoon coming to visit you. What happened then?
CPT Rascon: They came to visit me every day, but I guess somebody decided the fact that they could do a better job of taking care of me than the hospital did. Came back and basically kidnapped me. They made sure that I had my pajamas on; made sure that somebody could take the IVs I had in me, and also the drain in my back. Literally put me in a Jeep and took me back to the recon platoon. They had me in the recon platoon for about a week and a half, literally bringing in a medic every other day to make sure that my drains were being taken care of. Never told the fact, never told the battalion surgeon I was there, and I started getting sick. I started coming down with a fever. Uh, the jig was up. Well, Sergeant Cook knew what was going on but let it go, and he finally realized the fact that I was not really supposed to be there, and by that time people had found out that I was AWOL. And came back and give me a direct, not me, he came back and told one of the Sergeants "You get his ass back over there and get it over there now."
But what they did, instead of going back to the 93rd Field Evac, the Brigade Surgeon found out about it. They examined me and immediately they said "Get him out of here." Went back to 93rd Field Evac Hospital. Next day I was gone, medivaced from there to Johnson Army Hospital, which was I think 7th
Field Hospital, in Japan. Ended up spending I think two and a half or three months there in a wheelchair. From there I went back, ended up maybe a week and a half at Camp Zama. Then discharged from the Army and put into the Army Reserves, with a nice gimp in my leg.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, of course you were in the Army Medical Department. The Combat Medical Badge, this is one that all medics, regardless of rank often like to earn, but based on availability of combat actions, thank God that there's not some available every day, that the medics can go out and get it. What does that, the Combat Medical Badge mean to you personally?
CPT Rascon: Well, first of all you have to come back and look at the environment in 1963, '64 and '65, and really in '66. At that time a medic, we had no idea what the Combat Medical Badge was. I mean really it wasn't a point with us. Didn't realize the fact that that thing was even available until we got to Vietnam. I think it ends up being something that's noble by the fact that you end up being literally a humanitarian, and you take care of people. In Vietnam, unbeknownst to me, was the fact that you had to be in combat for 30 days to receive this thing. It's a special gift I think. I ended up receiving the Combat Infantry Badge on my second tour as an Army officer, but obviously whatever badge you get first, that's what you have to earn, and I think it's a badge of courage, and it's a badge of the fact that you're a doc's doc, and that's what we were at that time because you were a medic, but to them you were their doctor, and it's something that didn't speak about the person, it speaks about the medical service, the fact that you are there. But it also speaks about that individual, and the fact that that person was in a combat environment, and that person gave of himself to take care of others. I think that's special.
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, what would you tell the young medics of today?
CPT Rascon: I think there are quite a few things I would tell medics nowadays. I think the first thing that I would tell them is the fact that don't ever think that you're never going to be in a hostile environment, because obviously in 1965 nobody ever thought that Vietnam would occur, but it did, and it lasted longer than two days.
Be ready for the unpredictability of what's going on in this world, the fact that, you know, freedom isn't free like you come back and everybody says that. It's an old cliché but in reality it is. By virtue of what happens nowadays, at any given time something can put you in harm's way, and you as a medic will be in harm's way. You better learn what somebody's teaching you and complete your AIT or your advance medical training. I don't care what field you are, but you go back and learn more of it even when you're there. Learn from those that have been before you. Learn from your friends. And most of all learn what your shortcomings are, and don't be ashamed of what they are, but gain experience from them. The most important thing is that you can live inside of the box, or you can live outside of the box. If you live outside the box you're a good person too. You can modify and live with certain things that are going to come back and impact on your life. There's going to be an environment in which you're going to come back and meet, although you may not be ready for it, it could be the desert, it could be an urban environment, and you have to modify your practices as a medic to deal with those situations. You also have to know the people that you're with. Everybody has an idiosyncrasy, even yourself. Learn what your shortcomings are, but at the same time learn what your platoon is and learn what your company is. Learn what your medics can do, and learn what they can't do. But also learn if you're involved with a company out in the field as to who your Platoon Sergeant is, who your platoon leader is, or Company Commander. Find out what the shortcomings are with those people, and find out what you can do for them. And again, I guarantee you; they will come back and put their life before you, as you will do for them hopefully.
And be ready to learn. The fact that every day is a learning experience. One of the things that ironically happened to me was that after I had left the medical field, years and years later, my medical training has always been with me. It was there with me when I ended up going into Grenada. It was also there when I ended up doing my stint in Panama. It's a fact you never get away from it. And I didn't realize how much of an impact I had on individuals until the Medal of Honor ceremony, the night before when I had literally people that had been with me in Vietnam thank me for saving their lives, and to me it's not saving their lives. You know, I'm not a hero. I'm just a common medic who was doing their job. And anybody that does their job, with honesty and dignity, and realizes the fact that you're a human being with faults, you're going to get along great in this world.
Interviewer: You talk about those individuals that were with you in Vietnam there at the ceremony. These were the individuals who actually fought and overcame the system to make sure that you were awarded the Medal of Honor. Is that correct?
CPT Rascon: Yes, because I think what happened was that unbeknownst to me was that in 1966, days after I had been wounded, they did end up writing literally the nominations for the Medal of Honor at that time, and somehow along the line the paperwork was lost, and eventually through their own dignity, their fortitude, and most of all the brotherhood of each other, they came back and fought the system and made sure that it was taken care of the way they felt it should have been taken care of.
I think the other thing that's important for some of these medics to realize is the fact that a combat environment is something in which nobody is rooting for, and it's going to put you and it's going to come back and test you. You're going to end up having your hands dirty; you're going to end up having
blood on your hands. And as I mentioned before, people are going to be crying, people are going to be yelling, people are going to be dying. And you're going to have to do the right thing at the right time. Whether you're 19 years old, 20, all of a sudden you become a PH.D., being a psychologist, being a professional doctor, and literally being a team leader, because the decisions that you come back and make in a combat environment, that Captain, or the platoon leader, or that Sergeant who is with you, or those Sergeants, they're going to listen to you. I was an E-4 all the time I was with the recon platoon, not that I couldn't get promoted. The fact that there were not available slots at that time. This was an old Army. But everything I did was vital to these people. To you, you're their doc, and to them they end up being your doc forever. In fact, now when I meet these people, I have no other name other than "Doc."
Interviewer: Captain Rascon, is there anything else you'd like to add to the interview?
CPT Rascon: Well, other than the fact that it ends up being a learning environment for everybody. And I think it's critical for the Army to step up to the plate and understand what environment you're putting your medics in, and to realize the fact that if they are going towards a tech environment, it's good, but at the same time it has its faults, because in a combat environment once you end up reaching the pivotal point where somebody is yelling, organized chaos, hand grenades are going off, weapons are going off, people are dying, that medic or that person who is there is not going to have time to come back and put on apparatus on their person, or surgical gloves to make sure they're using a sterile environment. It's not going to happen. The old pucker factor is going to happen. You're going to have to come back and live by the seat of your pants. And live by the credibility of what you've learned and live by the credibility of what you are.
As I mentioned, you're going to have the smell of blood on your hands, you're going to have people literally blowing up in front of you, or somebody being literally gashed, slashed, burned, and you've got to be able to take care of them. You're not going to have time to put on some gloves. You're going to have to come back and get there and put your hands in and make yourself dirty. And luckily in our or in my lifetime when I was a young medic, we didn't have any problems with bloods as we do nowadays with AIDS, and I'm sure that's a very technical and a very cumbersome environment for our medics nowadays. As to whether I would do that again, put my life in harm's way, I would do it in a second because I know they would have done it for me.
Interviewer: This concludes the interview.