During a parade and ceremony organized by Laurel's Hunters Creek Homeowners Association, Vietnam War hero Alfred V. Rascon was honored yesterday by some of those closest to him: his neighbors.
"Freedom is not free," Rascon told them during brief remarks after a slow procession that carried him up Derby Drive in Hunters Creek to the community pond. Brightly dressed youngsters, holding American flags, listened quietly to his words.
Parade participants, including honor guards from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 451 from Dundalk and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, stood at solemn attention during the ceremony.
Also participating were members of the North Laurel 4-H Club, neighborhood children, a horse guard from Columbia Horse Center, a two-officer escort from the Howard County Police Department and a firetruck from the Laurel Fire Department. The Blinded American Veterans provided funding for the event and a local women's club donated refreshments.
"He's a brother," said Joe Purdy of Carroll County, a Vietnam Veterans of America honor guard member. "He was there [in Vietnam] the same time I was there, and I have the emotions he felt. He took buddies off the field. ... He did the ultimate thing."
The Vietnam Veterans of America presented Rascon with a lifetime membership in Chapter 451. A band made up of neighborhood children played "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The homeowners group presented Rascon with a tree planted in his honor. A marker at its base reads, "To our heroic neighbor Alfred Rascon Medal of Honor recipient."
Neighbor Charlie Myers' introductory remarks provided a history of the Medal of Honor. A Vietnam-era helicopter from the Maryland National Guard later circled overhead, the pilot waving to the crowd below.
"The last time I heard one of those, I was being given my last rites in 1966," said Rascon, who works as inspector general for the Selective Service System.
In February, Rascon was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for valor, for risking his life to save others in his platoon in Vietnam on March 16, 1966.
Although Rascon's platoon mates had submitted his application for the Medal of Honor 34 years ago, it was never processed. When this oversight came to light several years ago, Rascon's friends sprang to action, winning a waiver of normal time limits for awarding the medal.
Rascon was a medic in Vietnam when his platoon was ambushed by North Vietnamese soldiers in the jungle northwest of Saigon. During a firefight in which he suffered multiple wounds, the 20-year-old Rascon braved enemy fire to retrieve a gun and 400 rounds of ammunition before it fell into enemy hands, dragged fallen comrades from the fighting and threw himself against wounded soldiers to protect them from bullets and shrapnel. He then treated and directed the evacuation of wounded soldiers from the site before collapsing from loss of blood. He was not expected to survive.
"It's an honor to have someone like this in our community," said Linda Corso, a parade organizer. "It's wonderful for our children to see this."
Although there was a long delay before Rascon received the medal, Corso sees a silver lining in the way things turned out. "To have this happen now is wonderful, in a way," she said. "Now his kids share it with him, when they wouldn't have been able to 30 years ago."
Rascon has two children, Amanda, 12, and Allan, 9.
Neighbors made it clear that while he agreed to the parade, Rascon does not enjoy the limelight.
"He really wanted us to downplay him," said Terry Kemp, president of the Hunters Creek Homeowners Association. "Also, Al absolutely didn't want anything to do with politics. He wanted only family and neighborhood," Kemp said.
Earlier this year, there was conflict over a proposal to rename the post office in Savage after Rascon. Those plans were put on hold after the Senate decided last month not to act on the proposal by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican from Maryland's 6th District.
"If you ask him, he will say he is an ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances, not a hero," Corso said. "But you don't know how you will act until the extraordinary happens. He acted heroically. He is an exceptional human being."