Beyond Glory, a book full of interviews of surviving Medal of Honor recipients during WWII, Korea and Viet Nam, reads:
"I went back and I found Smitty. I got him on my shoulder, and he was a pretty stocky kid. Geez, I was dead at that point, I was bleeding, I was weak. I get him on my shoulder, I turned around, we're taking off, and he says, 'Skipper, skipper, I want my fuckin' arm.' I said, "Jesus Christ, Smitty.' But I turn around and I say, 'Where in the hell is it?' I went back another fifteen yards, and I grabbed his arm and said, 'Here, you asshole.' So he grabs his arm, and we got back, and he got heli-lifted out."
Vargas' story is amazing, and includes a night retrograde (retreat) through heavy artillery fire (an estimated 600 rounds of artillery and rockets), losing just two Marines out of almost 200, about which he later said "you can walk through artillery. You can actually do that." Later, after assaulting bunkers under artillery, machine gun and small arms fire "right through the jaws of hell, almost like the Civil War," he and his men took refuge in a fresh NVA graveyard, where they dug the bodies out of their graves and occuped them themselves, often sharing holes with corpses. They spent the night ringed by their own artillery and AC-130 gunship fire, which killed nearly 400 enemy soldiers all around them, and then got overrun by NVA soldiers, during which a brutal close combat melee ensued.
"I remember cutting a man's throat open very easily," he told the author of Beyond Glory. "I remember sticking my knife in the side of a guy's neck. It was either he or me. I can remember, being out of ammunition, hitting a couple with a rifle butt, you know, swinging it like a baseball bat. I remember taking another guy down and grabbing his Adam's apple and squeezing the hell out of it until I heard it crunch. What gave me the strength? Probably fear."
That was the third day of the action for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the country's highest military award. On the first night, he was wounded but told the corpsman not to report it as it would have been his third Purple Heart and he didn't want to abandon his men.
By my lights, the bravest and most self-sacrificing act of Vargas' life would come much later, as he was poised to get the highly coveted star of a General Officer. He chose instead to focus on his daughter, who had fallen into drug addiction, and go through a six-month rehab program by her side. Now that's what I call heroic.