Medal of Honor recipient honored at Texas A&M for military service
By ALLEN REED | The (Bryan, Texas) Eagle | Published: November 8, 2013
BRYAN, Texas — Medal of Honor recipient Clarence Sasser was further immortalized at Texas A&M on Thursday when he became the first black veteran and first Vietnam veteran to be enshrined in the university's Hall of Honor.
It was standing-room only at the dimly lit Bethancourt Ballroom at A&M's Memorial Student Center. The hour-long event featured the Signing Cadets, the Corps of Cadets color guard, several speeches from high-profile Aggies including the governor and some words from the 66-year-old inductee. There was a crowd of more than 300 at the event to honor the only living black Vietnam veteran who received the military's highest honor.
Sasser was awarded the medal in 1969 by then-President Richard Nixon for his service a year prior in Vietnam. Sasser, an Army medic, responded to a crashed U.S. helicopter and was wounded while treating soldiers on the battlefield. His legs were immobilized by a mortar, but Sasser dragged himself through the rice paddy while he continued to save lives.
Sasser was recruited to A&M after his service by legendary A&M President James Earl Rudder. Sasser never graduated from A&M, and thus his journey to join the seven other Aggies enshrined in the Hall of Honor took longer than the rest.
He started his speech by thanking Rudder and A&M.
"There's a camaraderie, there is a kinship here like no where else and that comes from the service that this institution encourages and provides to the world — not the nation, the world," Sasser said. "Aggies are everywhere and they let it be known."
Sasser also touched on the Medal of Honor, which he maintains is for just doing his job.
"I'm particularly proud that my Medal of Honor is for saving lives and not taking lives," Sasser said. "That's not to say I have a problem with taking lives, I do not; if it had been my job to kill that soldier over there, I would have killed him, make no doubt about that."
He received a standing ovation for the speech, which was one of several he received throughout the event.
The event included the public unveiling of Sasser's permanent display in A&M's Hall of Honor, located at the Memorial Student Center.
U.S. Congressman Bill Flores presented a U.S. flag to Sasser that flew over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Porter Garner, head of The Association of Former Students, presented Sasser with a Texas A&M football helmet that was worn during the Aggies' win over the University of Texas-El Paso last week.
Distinguished alumni Willie E.B. Blackmon, who helped push for Sasser's inclusion, touched on the historic significance of Thursday's event.
"In 1969, when General Earl Rudder recruited both Clarence Sasser and yours truly, he was writing on that originally blank page and striving for an Aggieland that could reflect the diversity of his home state of Texas," Blackmon said. "The dedication and unveiling of this Clarence Sasser Medal of Honor Hall of Honor display case in the honored halls of A&M's Memorial Student Center is proof positive that President Rudder's dream is alive and well."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke at the event through a prepared video.
"Texas has always enjoyed a strong connection to the military and nowhere is that connection felt more strongly than on the campus in College Station," Perry said. "Aggies truly understand freedom is worth fighting for.
"His story has become the stuff of legend. A young medic unexpectedly dropped into the first major firefight, pinned down by heavy fire, tending to the injuries of dozens despite being badly wounded himself. Through his multiple acts of pure courage Clarence Sasser was the only reason more men didn't die that day in the Mekong Delta in early January 1968."