Of the 61 Hispanics that have been awarded the nation’s highest medal for bravery and honor, 57 of them have been of Mexican origin. Five were born in Mexico. Of those, at least one was an “illegal alien,” “undocumented immigrant,” or “Dreamer” before there were “Dreamers.”
His name: Alfredo V. Rascon, Mexican citizen, Mexican-born, Medal of Honor awardee of the United States Army for “bravery and actions above and beyond” anyone’s imagination.
It is no secret that many Mexican nationals have walked across the border legally to enlist in the American Armed Forces, usually they first get “documented” with what we call a “Green Card.” Rascon didn’t because he didn’t know he wasn’t a U.S. citizen or a “Green Carder.” He was brought illegally into the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico, by his parents when he was a very young child. He grew up in Oxnard, California, where he attended schools through high school. When he graduated, he enlisted in the Army – he signed up as a citizen because he thought he was one.
It should be noted that this writer joined the U.S. Marines just four years before Rascon joined the Army and when asked where I was born, I responded Mexico City. The next question was, was I a U.S. citizen. I answered yes because a state civil judge had told me I was one. I had no documents and no one in the Marines asked for any, they took my word for it. Unlike today, immigration and citizenship weren’t flashpoints for the xenophobes scurrying about today’s America.
I did eventually document my citizenship with a formal ruling and document by the U.S. Department of Justice. Rascon had no idea he needed documents before he went into battle with the 173rd Airborne Brigade on March 16, 1966. That battle saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Vietnam War.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads, in part: “Specialist Rascon, ignoring directions to stay behind shelter…made his way forward. He repeatedly tried to reach (a) severely wounded point machine-gunner…but was driven back each time by the withering fire. Disregarding his personal safety…ignoring flying bullets and exploding grenades to reach his comrade…he intentionally placed his body between the soldier and enemy machine guns, sustaining numerous shrapnel injuries and a serious wound to the hip…Disregarding his serious wounds he dragged the larger soldier from the fire-raked trail…Specialist Rascon…Disregarding his own life and his numerous wounds… Rascon reached and covered (his fellow wounded soldier) with his body absorbing the blasts from the exploding grenades, and saving the soldier’s life, but sustaining additional wounds to his body…” and on and on.
For the record, upon his nomination for the Medal of Honor, the Army discovered Rascon was an illegal alien Mexican. Surprise! The Medal of Honor nomination was lost inside the Pentagon as the Army could not honor an “wetback.”
With help, Rascon applied for citizenship and was naturalized in 1967 almost a year to the day after his “longest” day in battle.
Years later, at a 173rd Airborne Brigade reunion, soldiers whose lives Rascon saved discovered he hadn’t received the Medal of Honor they had all supported. They went to work, roped a congressman to support their effort and presented their evidence to President William F. Clinton. He, who had violated the Selective Service Act (the draft) by lying to the “Draft” to avoid military service during Vietnam, approved the award and personally presented the medal to Rascon. He also appointed Rascon to serve as Selective Service Director.
Rascon was not the only illegal alien to make his way in to American armed forces in recent times. Colonel Rocky Chavez (United States Marine Corps, retired) tells the story of a Haitian-born U.S. Marine corporal he met while Chavez was an Air Naval Gunfire instructor at the Coronado Amphibious Base.
Colonel Chavez: “He told me he was not a citizen. He was a Haitian boat person. I started the process for him to become a U.S. citizen; I was able to be at his citizenship ceremony within the year (the corporal was told it would take years…letters of support from Marine Corps Chain of Command)” shortened the process to “get him legal.”
If other commanding officers like Colonel Chavez took care of their people like he did, we wouldn’t have a problem today of honorably discharged veterans, combat veterans, being deported because their commanding officers didn’t see to it that they were naturalized while in uniform. No one knows how many of our veterans have been deported; we should know that, and we should insist that the government helps our soldiers, sailors, airmen and U.S. Marines “get legal.”