Louis R. Rocco

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Louis Richard Rocco
Louis Rocco.jpg   Cmoh army.jpg
Louis R. Rocco, Medal of Honor recipient
Born (1938-11-19)November 19, 1938
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Died October 31, 2002(2002-10-31) (aged 63)
San Antonio, Texas
Place of burial Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery San Antonio, Texas
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1955-1978, 1991-1992
Rank Chief Warrant Officer Two
Unit Advisory Team 162, U.S. Military Assistance Command
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Medal of Honor
Bronze Star
Purple Heart

Chief Warrant Officer Two Louis Richard Rocco (November 19, 1938 – October 31, 2002) was a United States Army soldier who received the Medal of Honor—the United States' highest military decoration—for his actions near the village of Katum, in the Republic of Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Despite being wounded, Rocco saved three comrades from a burning helicopter.

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Born on November 19, 1938, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rocco was the third of nine children of an Italian-American father and a Mexican-American mother. In 1948, the family moved to a housing project in the San Fernando Valley and later to a barrio called Wilmington. He joined a local gang and was frequently in trouble with the law. Rocco dropped out of high school and in 1954, when he was 16 years old, was arrested for armed robbery.

Rocco was in court for his sentencing and during a break he walked into a United States Army recruiters office. The recruiting officer, Sergeant Martinez, accompanied Rocco to the court and spoke to the judge. The judge gave him a suspended sentence and told him that he could join the Army when he was 17 if he stayed in school, obeyed a curfew and shunned his gang.

Rocco joined the Army in 1955 and, after completing his basic training, was sent to Germany. He earned his high school general equivalency diploma during his tour there.

A few years later, Rocco was serving as a medic at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California, when he spotted his recruiter, Sgt. Martinez, lying badly wounded on a litter. Rocco ensured that the sergeant received special attention and constant care.

Vietnam War[edit]

Rocco served two tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. His first tour was from 1965 to 1966. In 1969, Rocco, who was by then a sergeant first class, returned for another tour of duty in Vietnam and was assigned to Advisory Team 162 of the U.S. Military Assistance Command.

On May 24, 1970, Rocco volunteered to accompany a medical evacuation team on an urgent mission to pick up eight critically wounded South Vietnamese soldiers near the village of Katum. The helicopter in which the team was riding in came under heavy fire as it approached the landing zone. The pilot was shot in the leg and the helicopter crashed into a field. Under intense fire, Rocco was able to carry each of the unconscious crash survivors to the perimeter of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Despite having suffered a fractured wrist and hip and a severely bruised back, he was able to help administer first aid to his wounded comrades before collapsing and losing consciousness.

Lieutenant Lee Caubareaux, the helicopter's co-pilot, later lobbied for Rocco to receive the Medal of Honor. On December 12, 1974, President Gerald Ford formally presented Rocco with the medal during a ceremony at the White House.

Later years[edit]

Rocco made a career of the Army and earned an associate's degree. He retired from the military in 1978 as a Chief Warrant Officer Two.[1]

Returning to New Mexico, Rocco was named director of New Mexico's Veterans Service Commission. During his tenure, he established the Vietnam Veterans of New Mexico organization, opened a Veterans' Center which provided peer counseling to Vietnam veterans, started a shelter for the homeless and a nursing home for veterans, and persuaded New Mexico legislators and voters to waive tuition for all veterans at state colleges.

Rocco returned to active duty in 1991 during the Gulf War and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he recruited medical personnel. When he returned home, he met his fourth wife, Maria Chavez Schneider, an assistant director of New Mexico AIDS Services. The couple lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, from 1992 until 1998, when they moved to San Antonio, Texas. On July 11, 2000, Rocco was appointed the new Deputy State Director for Texas in San Antonio. He became instrumental in promoting Veterans Against Drugs, a nationwide school program.[2]

In 2002, Rocco was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer; he died at his San Antonio home on October 31 of that year. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. He was survived by his wife, Maria; two sons, Roy and Brian Rocco; one daughter, Theresa Rocco; his mother, Lita Rocco and five grandchildren (Dell Rocco, Cameron DuBois, Ashley Rocco, James Rocco & Thomas Rocco).

The local government of San Antonio honored Rocco by naming a youth center the Louis Rocco Youth & Family Center. The Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) offers a scholarship named in his honor.[3]

On October 31, 2011, Rocco's Medal of Honor was stolen from his widow's San Antonio home. After a visit to her husband's grave on the ninth anniversary of his death, Maria Rocco returned home to find her house burglarized. The thieves took a number of electronic items as well as the medal.[4]

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

LOUIS R. ROCCO
Rank and organization: Warrant Officer (then Sergeant First Class), U.S. Army, Advisory Team 162, U.S. Military Assistance Command.
Place and date:Northeast of Katum, Republic of Vietnam, May 24, 1970
Entered service at:Los Angeles, California
Born:November 19, 1938, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Citation:

WO Rocco distinguished himself when he volunteered to accompany a medical evacuation team on an urgent mission to evacuate 8 critically wounded Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel. As the helicopter approached the landing zone, it became the target for intense enemy automatic weapons fire. Disregarding his own safety, WO Rocco identified and placed accurate suppressive fire on the enemy positions as the aircraft descended toward the landing zone. Sustaining major damage from the enemy fire, the aircraft was forced to crash land, causing WO Rocco to sustain a fractured wrist and hip and a severely bruised back. Ignoring his injuries, he extracted the survivors from the burning wreckage, sustaining burns to his own body. Despite intense enemy fire, WO Rocco carried each unconscious man across approximately 20 meters of exposed terrain to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam perimeter. On each trip, his severely burned hands and broken wrist caused excruciating pain, but the lives of the unconscious crash survivors were more important than his personal discomfort, and he continued his rescue efforts. Once inside the friendly position, WO Rocco helped administer first aid to his wounded comrades until his wounds and burns caused him to collapse and lose consciousness. His bravery under fire and intense devotion to duty were directly responsible for saving 3 of his fellow soldiers from certain death. His unparalleled bravery in the face of enemy fire, his complete disregard for his own pain and injuries, and his performance were far above and beyond the call of duty and were in keeping with the highest traditions of self-sacrifice and courage of the military service.

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Among Rocco's decorations were the following:

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Medal of Honor Bronze Star Purple Heart National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal Southwest Asia Service Medal Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Vietnam Campaign Medal

Badges

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]