Drive to rename post office stalls

Senators pull bill honoring war hero

September 30, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

A plan to name a post office in Savage after a Vietnam War hero was put on hold yesterday by the U.S. Senate, which decided not to act on the measure.

After hearing objections from Savage residents, Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski asked that legislation to name the post for Medal of Honor recipient Alfred V. Rascon be pulled from consideration in the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.

The move temporarily halts a debate in which all sides agree that Rascon - awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 8 - is worthy of recognition.

The disagreement centers on whether the Savage building should be named for a resident of North Laurel. Both communities are in southern Howard County. Rascon lives three miles from the post office in Savage.

The Mexican-born Rascon, now an inspector general for the Selective Service System, was hon- ored for his bravery as a 20-year-old in a 1966 firefight northwest of Saigon.

In what he described as "10 minutes of pure hell," Rascon moved a dying soldier to safety, used his body to shield comrades from shrapnel, retrieved a machine gun and 400 rounds of ammunition about to be seized by the enemy, treated the wounded, directed an evacuation and then collapsed from loss of blood.

Rascon was so badly wounded that he received last rites.

"The senators understand that Mr. Rascon is a hero. What they are concerned about is the process by which the naming of the post office went forward," said a Sarbanes spokesman. "The two senators heard from the community and put a hold on the legislation to give the community ample time to discuss the issue."

The catalyst for the renaming was Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a 6th District Republican, who had unsuccessfully tried to dedicate post offices to Rascon in Fulton, Highland and Laurel before trying Savage.

Bartlett's Savage proposal was met with a fractious town meeting and a petition with more than 400 names in opposition to the plan. Residents objected to having one of their civic institutions named for a nonresident without their permission.

William B. Waff, a Coast Guard veteran and one of the Savage residents who opposed Bartlett's legislation, said, "Although we still feel that Mr. Rascon deserves all the honors he can get, this was an inappropriate action on Mr. Bartlett's part, one that should have been handled differently."

Bartlett said he was "disappointed" by yesterday's action in the Senate, adding that "I think it sends the wrong message to minorities. I think it sends the wrong message to veterans."

Bartlett said he is not sure if he will reintroduce the measure.

The congressman said his office had gotten letters indicating the opposition to the renaming of the post office was the work of "a very small minority" in Savage.

Waff disputed this, saying, "Most of the people that did anything [on the issue] came out saying they did not want it renamed."

He said this majority included Hispanic residents, and dismissed Bartlett's suggestion that the town's stance on the post office was racially motivated.

Said Rascon yesterday: "The best thing that happened is that people were able to disagree and vocalize, and that's what makes America great."

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