Patience and honor....

As you may recall, in typing these posts I wanted to bring to the forefront some stories that were lost in the shuffle of war. The first posts were from Iraq and Afghanistan because I can relate to those wars (being an Iraq War veteran). However I wanted to also find stories and events from other wars in our country's past. I decided to pick Vietnam this time. I started poking around and I found so many recollections and stories I wasn't sure if I'd be able to choose just one or two. Personally, I wish I could post them all.

One of the events I chose to post was about man named Alfred Rascon. He was a Specialist in the US Army; a medic assigned to a Recon platoon. What he did didn't impact the outcome of the war and I think it is a safe wager to say that this story was rarely told beyond his family and friends who knew him. It would have never been put on the 6 o'clock news in March of 1966...after all, he wasn't even an American citizen. He was from Mexico.

The Republic of Vietnam, 16 March 1966...Specialist Fourth Class Alfred Rascon was assigned as a medic to the Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate).

While moving to reinforce its sister battalion under intense enemy attack, the Reconnaissance Platoon came under heavy fire from a numerically superior enemy force. The intense enemy fire from machine guns and grenades severely wounded several point squad soldiers.

Specialist Rascon, ignoring directions to stay behind shelter until covering fire could be provided, made his way forward. He repeatedly tried to reach the severely
wounded machine-gunner laying on an open enemy trail, but was driven back each time by the withering fire. Disregarding his personal safety, he jumped to his feet, ignoring flying bullets and exploding grenades to reach his comrade. To protect him from further wounds, he intentionally placed his body between the soldier and enemy machine guns, sustaining numerous shrapnel injuries and a serious wound to the hip.

Thinking nothing of his wounds he dragged the larger soldier from the fire-raked trail. Hearing the second machine-gunner yell that he was running out of ammunition, Specialist Rascon, under heavy enemy fire crawled back to the wounded machine-gunner stripped him of his bandoleers of ammunition, and gave them to the other machine-gunner who continued his suppressive fire.

Specialist Rascon fearing the abandoned machine gun, its ammunition and spare barrel could fall into enemy hands made his way to retrieve them. On the way, he was wounded in the face and torso by grenade fragments, but disregarded these wounds to recover the abandoned machine gun, ammunition and spare barrel items, enabling another soldier to provide added suppressive fire to the pinned-down squad. In searching for the wounded, he saw another comrade being wounded by small arms fire and grenades being thrown at him. Again disregarding his own life and his numerous wounds, Specialist Rascon reached the soldier and covered him with his
own body, absorbing the blasts from the exploding grenades. He saved the soldier's life, but sustained additional wounds to his body.

While ma
king his way to the wounded squad leader, he saw that grenades were being hurled at the sergeant. Again, in complete disregard for his own life, he reached and covered the sergeant with his body, absorbing the full force of the grenade explosions. Once more Specialist Rascon was critically wounded by shrapnel, but disregarded his own wounds to continue to search and aid the wounded.

Severely wounded, he remained on the battlefield, inspiring his fellow soldiers to continue the battle. After the enemy broke contact, he disregarded aid for himself, instead treating the wounded and directing their evacuation...only after being placed on the evacuation helicopter did he allow aid to be given to him.

* * *
Now fast-forward 34 years. Tuesday February
8, 2000...President Clinton awarded the nation's highest military award to Alfred Rascon for acts you just read above. He was alive to receive it.

"Thank you for looking out for people when no one else could be there for them. You have taught us once again that being American has nothing to do with place of birth, racial, ethnic origin, or religious faith. It comes straight from the heart. And your heart, sir, is an extraordinary gift to your country," said Clinton.

Rascon was humble during the Medal of Honor ceremony, noting that the honor belonged to the people who were with him that day. He asked the survivors to stand and be acknowledged at the White House ceremony.

"What you see before you is common valor that was done every day. And those of you who served in the military -- and continue to serve in the military -- are very much aware of that. What you do every day, it is duty, honor and country. And I'm deeply honored to be here," Rascon said.


Nice Move

Everyone knows it's true even though they don't want to admit it, active duty military personnel typically frown upon those of us that serve the military in a reserve status. We reservists have earned various titles over the decades: Weekend Warriors, Part-timers, Johnny One-weekend and my personal favorite, Uncle Sam's tampons (only used once a month).

However, in Operation Desert Shield/Storm the reserve component of the military really shut up active duty for a while...85% of the US forces in the gulf were reservists. Thankfully, this time around (in Gulf War II), I got the feeling that reservists were given a little more respect. I can at least say that the active duty Marines I was with treated me as an equal (thanks Yuma, AZ Marines).

One thing that I always believed is that if your civilian job coincides with your military job, 9 times out of 10, you will excel at your military job. Below is proof.

The picture taken was from Afghanistan in support of Operation Mountain Resolve in November, 2003. The Chinook CH47 helicopter is making a very unique landing to pick up some Afghan detainees suspected of questionable goings-on.

This is not the first time this pilot has made a touchdown like this. His name is Larry Murphy and he is from the PA National Guard. In the civilian world he flies EMS choppers in the Keystone Helicopter Corps.

A landing like this in the mountains of Afghanistan (or anywhere) is very tricky. They have to keep the chopper steady in the face of wind and possible small arms fire. Not to mention setting down on a building of questionable structural integrity.

It definitely takes a lot of talent and sheer nerve to pull this off.

Captain Chontosh

The first post in this series isn't one that I would exactly call 'obscure'. Although the story has been told in email forwards and you can easily find it online, I doubt it was in many newspapers outside his hometown and it's never been on the national news from what I can tell.

This is the story of Brian Chontosh. He's a Marine officer. At the time of the war he was a 1st Lt. When I met him, he was a Captain.

Twentynine Palms, CA...Marines just call it 'The Stumps'. It's the home of MCAGCC (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center). It's a place I've been half a dozen times. I went there for MOS School (Military Occupational Specialty School) in 1999 and I've also had the wonderful misfortune of going there another 5 times to partake in CAX (Combined Arms eXercises). CAX is an annual joint forces exercise where you become very intimate with your MOS in the desert...meanwhile there's a mock war going on all around you with tanks and jets and stuff. It's pretty cool and it truly is great desert training.

Because CAX is a combined arms exercise, the scale of the operation is larger than what one communications unit can do. Therefore, we not only utilize our equipment, but we sign out equipment from the base to use with ours. The downside is that we need to clean more equipment when it's all said and done. Cleaning equipment after a CAX is never fun. It's long hours and you have to be meticulous, but the worst part is that the gear has to be inspected before it is accepted and checked back in. So if the inspector is having a bad day, he can turn away your entire inventory
if he finds one handset to still have dust in it.

So there we were in a giant staging area (aka parking lot) with all of our gear. The sun was a roasting 110 degrees and we were just breaking for lunch (or as Marines call it, chow). My marines and I were hanging out under an awning to escape a little bit of sun and this Marine walks up to us and starts talking. Obviously, we knew he was a Captain, so we treated him as such and began swapping war stories. The extent of his war story was, "Yeah, we saw some action. My Marines and I got ambushed a couple of times. We did alright though."

That was that. He told us to keep cool and have fun. Shortly after he left, another Marine came up to us and asked if we knew who that guy was. Obviously we had no clue. He proceeded to tell us this story (only with a lot more swear words)...

courtesy of :

On March 25, 2003, (then) First Lieutenant Chontosh, recognized his unit was caught in a “kill zone” on Highway One leading to Ad Diwaniyah in the initial campaign to Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After punching his vehicle through a breech, he was immediately taken under withering machine gun fire from a crew served weapon in a trench. Chontosh plowed toward the machine gunner, trusting his .50 caliber gunner to silence the enemy, which was done almost immediately.
Chontosh then dismounted his vehicle and armed with only his M16A2 and a M9 pistol began to systematically clear the trench that his vehicle was now inside.

With a complete disreg
ard for his own personal safety, Chontosh twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack. When one of his Marines following behind found an RPG, Chontosh decided to personally use it to destroy another unlucky clump of enemy soldiers thinking they could overpower the brazen Marine.

When his dedicated and bold personal attack had ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench and lying behind him and at his feet were the remains of over 20 enemy fighters. For these actions, Brian Chontosh was awarded the second highest award given for combat valor, The Navy Cross.

The man standing next to Captain Chontosh is General Hagee, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Enough said...


The obscure and unknown

Once again I write this and once again I apologize. It has been a long while since I posted on this blog. That will be no more. This blog will be updated at least once a week.

I know the last time I posted, the next story was to be entitled, "Santa Nuts". That is a story for next Christmas. What I would like to do this time is tell a story form my past. Although it is not really a story persay as much as it is an event. Rather a milestone for me...

My mother and I were sitting in the waiting room at Norlanco Medical Center. Not the main waiting room, the smaller one in the back hall. I'm not sure why we were there, but I'm sure it was for me. It may actually have been when I swallowed a screw from an Erector Set, but I'm not sure (that's a story for another post). Anyway, where we were and why we were there isn't as important to this story as you may think. We were sitting there in the waiting room full of Highlights Magazines and Ranger Ricks and I had picked up a copy of Time magazine. I was flipping through the stories looking at the pictures, when I saw this photograph from the Civil War:

I always remembered this picture vivdly and I was able to find it today on the internet with relatively no searching. I know the picture may be strange or difficult to look at, and it was for me too. I couldn't have been older than 8 or so when I saw it.

Thinking back, I really believe this was my first image of war. I had seen snippets of movies or read books, but there was something about this photo that stuck in my mind. It wasn't a major event. No helicopters and guns. No explosions or blood and guts. It wasn't in a jungle or in Europe. It was a few hours from where I was sitting.

At that time (and for the next decade) I never thought that I would have my own experiences of war. I wasn't an athlete or even that competative. No way would an independent, choir-singing, stage-acting, comic book reading, video game playing dork ever be in a war. But there I was around 15 years later standing in Kuwait. My rifle in my hands and my bags at my feet, looking at a camp where coalition forces were gathering in numbers getting ready to invade Iraq.

I remembered this photo while I was over there. Some of the guys and I got on the topic of Gettysburg and how I lived near there and how they always wanted to go there. Talking about how we'd all keep in touch, get together sometime and go there someday after the war.

This photo to me is now obscure. It's been overrun with experiences and images that are of greater significance to who I am. But I know that I need to never forget this image. It's where a major chapter of my life started. Thank the Lord it didn't end with that chapter.

Obscurity overrun by war is what I want to write about in the next few posts. I want to make known to you some of the war stories that I have come across. Not just the ones you see on the front page, but the ones on the back pages that are just a paragraph stating that John Doe was awarded such and such a medal on such and such a date with no other details given. Or that Little Johnny from Anytown, USA was killed in the war. Some of those John Does and Little Johnnys made a difference. Not a difference that impacted the course of history or the war that they died in, but a difference to those around them and to those who have heard their stories.

I doubt that the six or seven dead Union soldiers in the image above altered the outcome of the Civil War, but if you take your time or do a little digging into the news, you may just find something worth knowing. Something that should no longer be obscure. Not necessarily to the masses, but to you.