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Medal of Honor Recipient Says Heroism Was the Last Thing on His Mind

When his unit was ambushed in Vietnam, Alfred Rascon didn’t stop to think. He threw himself into the line of fire and got his friends out safe.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Alfred Rascon is the recipient of the military’s highest achievement, the Medal of Honor, but when he spoke to the crowd at Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit on Thursday, he said his actions weren’t heroic at all, he was just looking out for his friends.

“There’s nothing heroic about this, it’s the fact that you have to go out and take care of those that were injured, just like they would for you,” he said.

Rascon, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Mexico, joined the army as a medic when he was 17. In 1966, he was working as a medic with his platoon in the Long Khanh Province of Vietnam when his unit came under attack. As soon as men became injured, Rascon—nicknamed “Doc” Rascon by his friends—jumped into medic mode, risking his life in the line of fire to revive his friends and at times throwing himself in front of hand grenades in order to shelter them.

“You’re afraid,” Rascon said of the attack. “Anyone who says you aren’t afraid, something is wrong with them.”

Rascon was shot from the hip through his shoulder and hit by hand grenades over four times, once directly to his face. “I thought I was going to die, I didn’t know how much face wounds bled,” he said.

But Rascon didn’t stop attending to his friends until he was forcibly carried away for his own medical attention. “I was not trying to be a hero, I was trying to be a medic,” he said.

On the night of Rascon’s platoon’s ambush, he was 19 years old and although he was recommended for the Medal of Honor soon after, he didn’t receive the reward until he was 53. A series of lost paper work delayed the process and it wasn’t until Rascon met up with his former unit at a reunion that his friends realized they needed to make sure he got the honor they felt he deserved.

When looking back at that night, Rascon says that it was obligation that drove him to his heroic acts. “Everybody’s yelling, you can hear everything at one time and then you can hear nothing,” he said. “And then you are wondering what’s going on inside yourself and you’re asking, ‘why do I have to do this?’ and it’s because you have to.”