As Alfred V. Rascon fought through a rain of grenades, gunfire, and mortars in a heavily engaged firefight, neither Rascon nor his company thought of themselves as anything other than brothers in arms. Though Rascon was born in Mexico, on the battlefield, he proved himself to be a heroic member of the U.S. military, and eventually a proud U.S. citizen and Medal of Honor recipient. “That’s the thing about it in the military. That didn’t matter to us,” Rascon said when speaking about his citizenship while fighting in the Vietnam War. It is this mentality and focus on duty that has made immigrants such an integral part of the U.S. military.
There are currently around 80,000 immigrants serving in the U.S. military. In fact, 22% of all Medal of Honor recipients have been immigrants – an astounding number that emphasizes the sacrifice these soldiers have made for our country. By taking a look at a few examples of these heroes, we may fully appreciate the service immigrants have given and continue to give in order to protect us.
Captain Florent Groberg
Florent Groberg was born in Poissy, France, in 1983. He moved to the United States and attended college at the University of Maryland. After being naturalized as a citizen in 2001, Groberg entered the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division as a platoon leader. He served several tours in Afghanistan, but it was one fateful day in 2012 that changed everything.
Capt. Groberg was leading his troops and a few VIP’s in a diamond formation to a security meeting when a suicide bomber began approaching his platoon. With no concern for his own life, Groberg grabbed the bomber and pushed him as hard as he could. “I just wanted to get him as far away from my guys as possible.” As soon as he hit the ground, the device exploded, setting off a second suicide bomber’s vest that had not even been seen yet by the company.
The blast severely injured Groberg and killed four men in his company. But without Groberg’s quick thinking and sacrifice, the blast would have been directed straight towards his entire squad, and between the two explosives, the loss of life would have been unimaginable. Though he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery, Groberg holds the medal as a true testament to those he lost that day. “This medal is not about me… It’s about true heroes that sacrificed everything for their country. That medal represents them.”
Captain Tibur Rubin
Born in Hungary in 1929, Tibur Rubin learned about the atrocities of war at a young age. Forced to leave by his parents for fear of the impending German occupation, Rubin and his siblings were sent out of the country and attempted to cross into Switzerland. However, they would never reach safety and, after being captured by German soldiers, they were sent to Mauthausen, a concentration camp.
The guards at the camp and the lack of food made every day a living nightmare, and Rubin and his fellow prisoners were wasting away from hunger when the Army’s 11th Armored Division took the camp and freed the prisoners. Tibur Rubin would never forget the sense of gratitude he felt towards the soldiers that freed him. It would take several more years before Rubin was able to immigrate to the United States. But two years after doing so, he joined the Army and was sent to fight in the Korean War, serving as a corporal in the 8th Cavalry’s 3rd Battalion. It was here that Rubin’s tenacity, perseverance and allegiance to his fellow soldiers came to light in not just one, but many heroic instances that tested everything Rubin had inside him.
Rubin was told one night to keep watch over an ammunition depot on a hill and look out for encroaching enemy forces while the rest of the Cavalry began maneuvers. Little did anyone know, an entire battalion of North Korean forces was approaching. Through a barrage of hand grenades, machine-gun fire and sheer determination, Rubin was able to hold off the opposing force and save his battalion from the attack. Later in the war, Rubin again found himself greatly outnumbered, this time facing a massive Chinese force that overwhelmed his line. After three gunners had been killed, Rubin grabbed the machine gun and began firing, holding out long enough to give the others time to find safety. Though he was captured by the Chinese and put in a camp, he was able to survive by sneaking food from the gardens near the camp during the night.
Because of a severely anti-semitic master sergeant, it took the United States 55 years to honor Rubin with a Medal of Honor. But when he was finally recognized, even after all the sacrifices he had made and all he had endured, Tibur Rubin still could only think of those we had lost, “The real heroes… are the Soldiers who give their lives defending freedom.”
Army Spc. 4th Class Alfred V. Rascon
Today, Alfred Rascon would be considered a Dreamer. Born in Mexico in 1945, his family moved to California when he was three years old. He was a precocious child who was obsessed with becoming a paratrooper. He even tells a story of jumping off his roof when he was seven with a parachute he made himself. It did not end as he had hoped, and he wound up with a broken wrist.
As soon as Rascon could, he joined the military – even getting his parents to sign a waiver so he could join at 17. Rascon was made a medic in the 173rd Airborne Brigade and, in 1965, became part of the first ground combat unit to serve in Vietnam. A year later, his name would be forever sewn into the fabric of this country.
While assigned to a reconnaissance platoon, Rascon and his squad came under heavy fire, and many in the platoon were seriously injured. Ordered to take cover until back-up arrived, Rascon defied orders and reached an injured Soldier at the front line. Putting his body between the injured Soldier and the enemy, Rascon took a bullet and shrapnel. Despite the injuries, he continued searching for injured Soldiers, even sustaining a blast of shrapnel to his face. He was rattled but he trudged on, eventually finding Neil Haffey, who he covered with his own body to absorb further shrapnel, saving Haffey’s life. Though the fighting ceased, Rascon continued to treat the injured and would not let others treat his own wounds until he was on the helicopter heading back to base.
Rascon received a Silver Star for his actions that day on the battlefield. But his fellow Soldiers knew that wasn’t enough. In fact, after a reunion of his airborne division years later, the division fought for him, as he had fought for them, and in 2000, Alfred Rascon was awarded the Medal of Honor. When reflecting on his time and the award that was given 34 years after the day in question, Rascon said, “I did not take an oath to receive accolades or be given awards. I took an oath to myself to help others.”
Florent Grobin, Tibur Rubin, and Alfred V. Rascon all share several qualities, and the fact that they are immigrants is only one of many. In all their stories, we see selflessness, both in their actions and in their words reflecting on their experiences. They did not fight to be remembered or to be honored, they fought because they believed in their country. It’s important that we give immigrants the same honor that they have given to our military. Rascon says he is “Mexican by birth, American by choice.” These Soldiers chose to serve for the U.S. military and, without these proud Americans, we would not be the country we are today.
Made possible with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.