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Security forces NCOIC’s grandfather’s story a tale of valor

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 31, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — When Air Force Staff Sgt. Heath Conde was a young boy growing up in Troy, Texas, his grandmother Lydia would talk about his grandfather Felix Conde-Falcon, an Army staff sergeant whose life was taken too soon.

“She would tell us what a loving man he was and how he cared about his family more than anything,” said Conde, 902nd Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of police services.

Conde also learned his grandfather had served his country bravely: He was killed in action during the Vietnam War and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.

So moved was Conde by his grandfather’s service that he chose to enlist in the Air Force after graduating from high school in 2012.

“Her stories about him sparked my interest,” he said. “They made me want to be like him.”

What his grandmother didn’t know – and what the family didn’t know until years later – was the extent of the Conde family patriarch’s heroism.

On March 18, 2014, 45 years after his death, Conde-Falcon, a native of Puerto Rico who was raised in Chicago, received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. Conde’s father, Richard, traveled with other family members to Washington, D.C., to accept the posthumous award from President Barack Obama. Unfortunately, Conde was not able to attend the ceremony. Assigned to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, at the time, he was deployed to Oman.

“I wanted to go home so I could go to that ceremony,” he said. “I was very excited. I wanted to tell everybody about it, but I couldn’t say anything until after the ceremony.”

For his father, Conde said, accepting the award was a “breath of fresh air."

“It was a weight lifted off his shoulders,” he said. “He finally got to know his dad.”

Conde’s father was only 3 when his father died for his country, so he only knew him through his mother’s reminisces. However, the character of his father came into even sharper focus when a man named Leslie Hayes, an Army radio operator who served alongside Conde-Falcon, contacted him in 2005 after years of searching.

“He let my dad know that my grandfather was a good man and had a great sense of humor,” Conde said. “He talked about how my grandfather cared about his family a lot and how he had saved his life many times. He said my grandfather cared more about others than he cared about himself.”

Hayes and Conde’s father became friends and kept in touch with each other, Conde said. His father was so touched by Hayes’ mission to find him that he gave his youngest daughter, Payten, the middle name Leslie.

Conde’s father learned his father’s Distinguished Service Cross had been upgraded to the Medal of Honor when President Obama surprised him with a personal phone call in 2013, inviting him and his family to the Medal of Honor ceremony.

Conde-Falcon was recognized along with 23 other Soldiers as a result of a review of Jewish-American and Hispanic-American veteran war records from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Known as the “Valor 24 Recipients,” the soldiers’ heroic actions were found to display criteria worthy of the Medal of Honor, so their Distinguished Service Crosses were upgraded.

According to his biography on the U.S. Army website, “Conde-Falcon distinguished himself on April 4, 1969, while serving as a platoon leader during a sweep operation in the vicinity of Ap Tan Hoa, Vietnam. Conde-Falcon was killed in action that day after destroying multiple enemy bunkers and demonstrating extraordinary leadership under fire. He left behind a wife and two children.”

Conde said he was already inspired by his grandfather’s service before he learned about his heroic actions on April 4, 1969. The Medal of Honor provided him with further inspiration.

“When I got to my first base, I worked hard,” he said. “But this made me want to work even harder. It made me more confident.”