TEMPLE — Before going to Vietnam to fight for the United States, Staff Sgt. Felix M. Conde-Falcon fought to save his wife’s and son’s lives in an El Paso hospital room when he was stationed at Fort Bliss.
That is one of the stories that reverberates through the memories of Temple resident Richard Conde, who will receive the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on his father’s behalf during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., today.
Conde-Falcon was born in Puerto Rico, moved to Chicago and finally came to Texas courtesy of the U.S. Army, where he met his wife, Lydia.
“I was born at Fort Bliss two months’ premature, and the doctor told my dad that he might be able to save either my mom or me,” Conde said his family has told him.
“He told the doctor, ‘No, you’re going to save them both.’”
That tenacity and refusal to give in to difficulty led Conde-Falcon to sacrifice himself on April 4, 1969, by taking out several bunkers single-handedly to protect his men, according to U.S. Army records.
Almost 45 years later, Conde-Falcon is being awarded the Medal of Honor.
One of the men serving with Conde-Falcon, Pete Watkins, also was injured, but he survived.
He told Conde he’ll always remember that the soldiers were holding the helicopter for his father, until a message was relayed that he died.
The loss of their platoon leader was devastating, said Les Hayes, who served with Conde-Falcon, when he first spoke with Conde nine years ago. It took a 20-plus year search for Hayes to finally locate Conde-Falcon’s son.
“Les said he was lost for weeks after April 4, 1969,” Conde said. “It was a terrible day for Dad’s unit. He told me, ‘I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for your father,’ and he said a lot of other guys felt the same way.”
Today’s Medal of Honor ceremony is helping to bring closure to Conde, he said. “Growing up without a father and finally hearing about him wraps it all together for me,” Conde said. “Now getting to be part of his Medal of Honor ceremony — it’s incredible. It’s hard to describe what it means.”
“It’s the ultimate for me and in my life, other than my wife and kids.”