True Hero: Specialist Fifth Class Clarence E. Sasser
Today I would like to honor the heroism of Specialist Fifth Class Clarence E. Sasser of the United States Army. Specialist Fifth Class Clarence E. Sasser was a private in the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division when he earned the U.S. military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his selfless and courageous acts on January 10, 1968, during the Vietnam War. As a combat medic in Vietnam, Specialist Sasser served our country above and beyond the call of duty. He is a hero among us.
Clarence Eugene Sasser was born in 1947 in Chenango, Texas. Sasser was studying chemistry as a part-time student at the University of Houston when he was drafted in 1967. Sasser completed a ten week course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to be a medical aid man. The 20 year old went to Vietnam in September 1967, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. The division was sent to the Mekong Delta, in southwestern Vietnam.
As the medic for 1st Platoon, Company A, Sasser would accompany the unit when it left base camp to go on patrols, missions or nighttime ambushes. On January 10, 1968, what Sasser considers ‘‘the longest day of his life’’, his company was on the third day of their search and destroy mission when Company A was sent out in 12 helicopters to a large, flooded rice paddy.
The lead helicopter was hit with enemy fire and crashed, so the rest landed. More than 30 Americans were either immediately killed or wounded. Upon stepping off the helicopter, Sasser was shot through his right leg.
Since the rice paddy was flooded with mud and water, Sasser found it easier to grab tufts of grass and rice plants to pull himself and glide through the paddy to render medical aid. It was faster than trying to walk, and being low made him less exposed to enemy fire. Sasser pulled one man to safety near an embankment that provided some cover and was going back when mortar fire landed about five feet from him, and shrapnel struck his back and left side just as he reached cover. Despite these injuries in addition to his legs being immobilized from injury, Sasser continued sliding through the rice paddy to answer fallen infantry soldiers calling for ‘‘Doc’’.
Into the afternoon and through the night, Sasser treated injuries until his supplies ran out, then continued going to soldiers calling for help when all he could offer was emotional support. Army helicopters were finally able to come into the area and the platoons were evacuated about 4 a.m., 18 hours after they first arrived in the rice paddy.
President Richard Nixon presented 21 year old Sasser with the Medal of Honor on March 7, 1969, ‘‘for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actjon at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,’’ according to the medal citation. ‘‘It’s confirmation to me that I did my job. And that’s how I had to deal with it,’’ Sasser said in an interview in 2011. ‘‘It was my job, and I don’t think what I did was above and beyond. I never have.’’
Following his military service, he attended Texas A&M University on a scholarship offered by then President James Earl Rudder in August 1969. After attending Texas A&M, he began working at an oil refinery for more than five years before going on to work at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to continue to serve his country. On November 7, 2013, he was the eighth Texas Aggie to be added to Texas A&M University’s Medal of Honor Hall of Honor. During his speech at the ceremony, Sasser said ‘‘I am particularly proud that my Medal of Honor is for saving lives and not taking lives.’’
Specialist Sasser is also honored at the Brazoria County Courthouse in Angleton, Texas for his outstanding bravery. On Veterans’ day 2010, he was memorialized into the 40 foot ‘‘Ring of Honor’’ with a life-size portrait bronze sculpture of Sasser in a crouched run, carrying his medic bag while in action.
Of the 246 Medals of Honor awarded during the Vietnam War, 20 were given to black servicemen. Of the 53 Vietnam War-era recipients still living, Sasser is the only black veteran.
We continue to honor Specialist Sasser for his sacrifice and heroic efforts. He is a true warrior who went above and beyond, risking his own life to save others. We must ensure that our country’s veterans are not forgotten and are given due recognition of their bravery and sacrifice.
And that’s just the way it is.