FORT HOOD, Texas - “Fifty-four years, four months, three weeks and six days after that experience, we’re gathered here to continue Mr. (Clarence) Sasser’s legacy and … tell the story of an incredible man who did everything he could to save the lives of people just like you, just like me,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Keating, deputy commanding general for support (U.K.), III Armored Corps, during the dedication of the Medical Simulation Training Center here, June 9.
The general referred to Spc. 5th Class Clarence E. Sasser, a Vietnam War veteran and recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.
“Mr. Sasser, we are honored to have you here this day,” Keating said. “We are humbled by your selfless service. You alone have done what many of us can only imagine what we might do in those circumstances, and to be dedicating a medical training facility here at Fort Hood in your name so that others might be inspired by your story is an honor beyond words.”
The general added that even before Sasser’s Vietnam experience on Jan. 10, 1968 in a rice paddy field, his “back story” speaks volumes about the man.
Born on Sept. 12, 1947, Sasser grew up in Chenango, Texas, a small town near Houston. He had a brother, a sister and four step siblings who all lived on a farm with his mother and stepfather, a church deacon who helped raise him.
“We were a farm family, and times were tough, things were hard, but we always had plenty to eat,” Sasser recalled. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we always had plenty of food.”
“There, Mr. Sasser graduated the top of his class at Marshall High School where he was a football player,” the general added. “He graduated in 1965 at the height of segregation, just to put that into context.”
From there, he pursued a college education at the University of Houston as a chemistry major.
Keating explained that because of a lack of funds, however, Sasser had to take on a part-time job, meaning he could only attend college as a part-time student, and subsequently, was eligible for the draft.
Though he could have requested a deferment, the general said that when that call to serve came in June of 1967, Sasser stood up to be counted and was drafted into the Army as a medical aid-man.
“So, not only do we have a brave man in our presence, not only do we have a bright man in our presence, we have an incredibly noble man in our presence, as well,” Keating said.
In Vietnam, while serving with A Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, as a medical aid-man, Sasser was dispatched on a reconnaissance-in-force operation in Dinh Tuong Province.
On an air assault mission that day, Sasser’s unit came under heavy small arms, recoil-less rifle, machinegun and rocket fire from well-fortified enemy positions on three sides of the landing zone.
During the first few minutes, over 30 casualties were sustained.
Without hesitation, the MOH narrative states, Sasser ran across the open rice paddy through a barrage of enemy fire to assist the wounded. After helping one Soldier to safety, he himself was wounded, and refused medical attention. Instead, he raced through the barrage of enemy weapons fire to aid other casualties. And despite sustaining additional wounds which immobilized his legs, he crawled 100 additional meters through the mud to help another Soldier casualty.
Suffering agonizing pain and nearly faint from a loss of blood, Sasser reached the Soldier and proceeded to encourage another group of Soldiers to crawl 200 meters to relative safety. There, he would spend another five hours tending to their wounds until the unit was evacuated.
“I would implore all of you to ask him about some of those experiences,” Keating said. “We’ve only heard a very small part, and none of us should walk away and think that what he did just lasted five hours. He arrived at that paddy field at 10:30 that morning … they were on the ground until 4 a.m. the next morning. The experience for all of them must have been quite extraordinary.”
Still, according to Sasser, it was what he had to do.
“A medic’s job begins when people are hurt,” he explained. “All you guys on the front lines know what it means when something has to be done. That’s what it was, and we had come into a terrible situation that I had to do something, or we were all going to be fertilizer in that rice paddy.”
After his tour in Vietnam, Sasser continued serving his fellow Soldiers – but this time, with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“To me, it (serving as a medic and helping Soldiers) was more than just a job,” he said. “It was something, sort of giving back—having been there—I just felt I understood their problems and I tried my best to give them a fair shake.”
According to the dedication narrative, it was Sasser’s dedication and commitment to saving lives, despite the life-threatening danger, that fully embodies the Army Medical Department’s motto to “Conserve the fighting strength” and it was fitting that the center would carry his name.
The Medical Simulation Training Center, or MSTC, exists to train Soldiers and provide them the tools necessary to succeed during combat operations. This training includes continuing education for combat medics, initial certification training for combat lifesavers, as well as advanced first responder care for Soldiers wounded in action.