How significant could a six-year-old immigrant kid from Mexico be?
Alfred Rascon was that immigrant kid starting elementary school in the 1950s unable to speak even a word of English. His whole life experience had been in Spanish, but Alfred quickly developed a fascination for all things American, especially the American military.
As a child, he would watch the convoys come and go from nearby military bases as soldiers prepared to ship out to Korea. He dreamed of becoming a paratrooper and at age seven decided to give it a try, jumping off the roof of his house with his own home-made version of a parachute. The experiment was less than successful and left him with a broken wrist.
Learning English proved to be a big challenge for Alfred. But his love for his new homeland drove him to work hard at it. The truth was that he simply loved all things American. That love led him to join the Army when he graduated high school in 1963.
"I wanted to give back something to this country and its citizens for the
opportunities it had given me and my parents," he said in testimony before Congress.
And "give back" is exactly what he did. Alfred Rascon became a combat medic, known to his unit as "Doc." And he was sent to Vietnam. Early one morning of March 1966, as the unit moved through Long Khanh province, the bullets began to fly.
Rascon recalled the event in an interview with the Veterans History Project. "It was total chaos," he said. "You could hear everything so distinct and clear. Also, you could smell the cordite from the explosions of the hand grenades going off. … I had no idea what was going on in front of me, other than the fact that somebody said, 'Hey doc, somebody's wounded.'"
Ignoring the explosions, Rascon dove into the fray, throwing his body between the wounded soldier and a grenade. As bullets whistled by, Rascon managed to drag the soldier back, and then he turned around and ran back into danger to find the next injured comrade.
Throughout that day, Rascon continued to be hit by shrapnel and bullets, but he never stopped seeking out the next wounded soldier to assist, all the meanwhile supplying fellow soldiers with needed ammo and fighting the enemy himself.
Miraculously, Rascon survived that horrible day. And thanks to his heroism, many others survived too. Rascon was medically discharged, went home to California, and attended college. But a love for America and the military still burned deep within his heart. It drove him back into the Army (and back to Vietnam) where he served as an Army officer. Eventually, the long-term repercussions of his combat injuries forced him to end his military career.
In 2000, Alfred Rascon was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be given to military members.
No one could have predicted that an immigrant kid from Mexico would grow up to be a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, but Alfred Rascon did.
HOPE Literacy exists to serve newcomers to America just like Rascon and his family because each newcomer has the potential to become some sort of hero.