News: Medal of Honor recipients meet troops in Qatar
CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar — Congressional Medal of Honor recipients shook hands and signed autographs April 18, while meeting U.S. troops in Qatar. The Gulf country is their fifth stop during a 20-day military appreciation tour across Southwest Asia.
Don Jenkins and Alfred Rascon met servicemembers at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, after visiting U.S. military installations in Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The Medal of Honor's blue silk neckband was wrapped around both their collars. Below thirteen white embroidered stars, a golden eagle grasps the word "valor."
The Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, is awarded for actions that clearly exemplify courage while engaging enemy combatants. There are 91 living recipients, of which 58 performed their actions of valor in Vietnam, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Jenkins was visiting the Qatar base on his 62nd birthday — a long life nearly curbed by combat 41 years ago.
Jenkins earned his Medal of Honor as an Army private first class in Vietnam, January 1969. He was a machine gunner supporting a reconnaissance mission in the Kien Phong province. While caught in a concentrated enemy crossfire, Jenkins bravely maneuvered forward to save Alpha Company.
He supplied suppressive fire from an exposed but effective position. When his machine gun jammed, he reached for a rifle. His assistant gunner worked to clear the overheated weapon. Jenkins repeatedly crawled under a spray of bullets while collecting every last belt of ammunition.
Armed with two antitank weapons, Jenkins ran within 20 meters of an enemy bunker to destroy the position.
Jenkins advanced, again, after grabbing a grenade launcher from the outer perimeter. He launched every round of ammunition, applying accurate fire on enemy forces from an unconcealed location. His actions inspired the besieged unit to resist the massive enemy attack.
He moved forward 100 meters to aid soldiers pinned down near the enemy — unconcerned about serious shrapnel wounds. He made three trips to pull wounded soldiers back to safety, while overlooking intense enemy fire and his own painful injuries.
Remarkably, Jenkins survived that night and continues to share his story of valor decades later.
Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Wayne Niehus, from Reading, Pa., held a handshake with Jenkins that lasted several minutes at Camp As Sayliyah. Niehus was an infantryman based at Camp Swampy in DaNang, Vietnam. The two soldiers shared stories of service and family.
Niehus, 58, retired after 21 years of service in 1991, but requested a return to Army active duty in 2010.
"Soldiers need to know about what these two men gave to their nation," said Niehus, commenting about the Medal of Honor recipients' tour across Southwest Asia. "This isn't the movies — this is reality. Something in them kicked in. When at war, could you lie down and cover your buddy from incoming shrapnel?"
Rascon, 64, covered wounded soldiers on a battlefield in Vietnam, March 1966.
Rascon earned his Medal of Honor as an Army specialist assigned to a reconnaissance platoon. He courageously assisted a sister battalion that fell under intense enemy fire.
Several squad leaders had been hit by a steady stream of bullets and grenades. He was told to seek shelter until cover fire could be provided — Rascon didn't listen. He saw a machine gunner lying helpless on an open enemy trail.
Rascon selflessly advanced into a wrath of enemy crew served weapons. He raced through tree-splitting bullets and ground-pounding grenades while repeatedly attempting to reach the stranded gunner. In desperation and in total disregard for his personal safety, he rushed toward his fallen comrade.
After surviving the sprint, he placed his body between the soldier and enemy machine guns. As a result, he absorbed numerous pieces of shrapnel. With an injured hip, Rascon dragged the soldier to a concealed area and removed the weakened man's bandoleers of ammunition. Another gunner needed them to give more suppressive fire.
Fearing the enemy would mount the abandoned weapon, Rascon ran back toward the advancing forces to retrieve the gun, a spare barrel and more ammunition. Grenade fragments struck his face and torso, but the self-sacrificing effort armed another gunner from the pinned-down squad.
Rascon continued searching for defenseless soldiers. With complete disregard for his own life, he covered a bleeding man with his body to absorb blasts from grenades. The courageous act was repeated once again for a wounded squad leader.
Critically injured, he remained on the battlefield as an inspiration to keep fighting. Rascon turned down medical attention, while tending to others and directing an evacuation plan.
"It's a great honor to meet men of this caliber," said Army Sgt. Frank Deberry, from El Paso, Texas, at the Qatar base. Deberry served in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as two deployments in Iraq.
"They fought a really tough war and made it out alive," said Deberry. "Vietnam was one of the toughest wars in history."
Jenkins and Rascon plan to complete their tour after traveling to Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Date Posted:04.18.2010 15:31
Location:CAMP AS SALIYAH, QA
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