By: Hadley Bjerke, News Editor
President Trump presented the Medal of Honor on Monday to an Army medic who treated more than 60 wounded soldiers behind enemy lines in a place they weren’t supposed to be during the Vietnam War. Capt. Gary Michael Rose spent four days in the jungles of Laos tending to the wounded, even after he himself was wounded by shrapnel that pierced through his foot. It was a sensitive mission, code-named “Operation Tailwind,” shrouded in secrecy until a now-discredited CNN report accused Rose’s unit of wrongdoing in 1998. A Pentagon investigation exonerated them, and Monday’s Medal of Honor provides further vindication of Rose’s valor in the 1970 mission. “For many years the story of Mike’s heroism had gone untold,” Trump said Monday alongside Rose, who goes by Mike. “But today we gather to tell the world of his valor and proudly present him with our nation’s highest military honor.” The medal, Trump said, “will enshrine him into the history of our nation.”
Now 69 and retired in Alabama, Rose says he considers the honor “a collective medal.” “I want to accept this in honor of all the men and women who fought in that era,” he told reporters outside the White House Monday, wearing the green beret that’s the trademark of Army special forces. He said the service of that generation continues to this day. “All of the Vietnam veterans I know of continue to serve this country in all kinds of capacities,” he said.
In 1967, Rose enlisted in the Army rather than face the possibility of being drafted. He received training as a Special Forces medic, and was dispatched to Southeast Asia in 1969. In 1970, his company was to join forces with local fighters to attack the North Vietnamese Army in neighboring Laos, where the enemy had established a supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Laos was officially out of bounds in the war, and although the Army now acknowledges its presence there, Rose’s official citation says only that he was “deep in enemy-controlled territory.” On just his second combat mission, Rose accompanied 136 American soldiers and about South Vietnamese fighters known as Montagnards into Laos. He was the only medic. Ferried by Marine Corps helicopters more than 40 miles behind enemy lines, they were peppered by gunfire as they found themselves landing near a major North Vietnamese supply hub. Rose sprang into action, firing his weapon as he raced to an injured soldier trapped by heavy gunfire. And then he did it again. And again.
“Sgt. Rose, bravely and courageously, with no regard for his own safety, moved through the enemy fire to render lifesaving medical treatment to the mounting wounded, personally engaging the enemy to get the wounded men,” the Army said in its account. On the second day, Rose himself was wounded as he dragged an injured soldier to safety. A rocket-propelled grenade hit nearby, exploding shrapnel into his back, leg and foot. Later, Rose would take his boot off and slip his entire index finger through the wound in his foot. “I remember putting my sock back on. I remember thinking, I’ll worry about that later,” he said. “It was like, ‘Here’s a Band Aid, take two aspirin and see me in the morning’ moment,” he said. Rose continued to tend to the wounded soldiers with whatever dwindling supplies he had, doling out just enough morphine to blunt their pain and keep them moving.
On the fourth day, helicopters arrived under heavy fire to evacuate the company. Rose got on the last helicopter, which took on heavy fire and crashed miles away. He pulled the men from the burning wreckage and tended to their wounds until another helicopter arrived. Recounting this part of the story in the formal East Room of the White House Monday, Trump departed from the remarks on his teleprompter and turned to Rose. “Mike, this is serious stuff,” he said. “This is not a good four days.” Back at base, Rose refused treatment until the other men were attended to, the Army said. Despite the constant heavy firepower, only three men died over the four days.
Rose attended Officer Candidate School in 1973 and retired in 1987 at the rank of captain. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and more than a dozen other awards. But it took an act of Congress for him to receive the nation’s highest military award. His Medal of Honor is the second that Trump has awarded during his presidency. At the ceremony were nine previous Medal of Honor recipients, 10 members of Rose’s company, his wife, his three children, and two grandchildren, Kaitlyn and Christian.