WASHINGTON – Retired Army Capt. Gary Michael “Mike” Rose, received the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House on Monday for his heroism during a covert operation in Laos during the Vietnam War.
Rose, 69, who was a 22-year-old special forces medic at the time, is credited with treating 60-70 wounded personnel and saving the lives of all but three men over four days of intense combat during Operation Tailwind.
On Sept. 11, 1970, then-Sgt. Rose, 15 other U.S. Army Green Berets and some 120 indigenous Vietnamese known as Montagnards were flown into Laos from Vietnam to draw away hundreds of North Vietnamese Army soldiers who had been attacking CIA-controlled airfields inside the neutral country.
Before their helicopters made landfall, the American troops had come under fire and the firefight continued for four days. On the first day, Rose left their defensive perimeter to care for a wounded comrade, shielding the American with his own body. He dragged the soldier back with one hand while using the other to open fire on North Vietnamese Army troops.
Throughout the fight, Rose left cover to crawl to the wounded to provide care. On the second day, Rose received his most severe wounds when he was hit by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade in his back, leg and foot. He used a stick as a crutch and continued providing care to others, ignoring his own injuries.
“I wasn’t concerned with what the [North Vietnamese Army] were doing because that wasn’t my focus. I knew that the other guys were going to take care of the perimeter,” Rose said Friday during a news conference at the Pentagon. “You don’t concern yourself about getting hurt or killed because if you focus on that, you probably will get hurt or killed.”
On the last day of the mission, as about 500 North Vietnamese Army troops approached, Rose boarded the last helicopter sent in a last-minute effort to extract the troops. Previously, there had not been an extraction plan.
“We weren’t supposed to come out,” said retired Lt. Colonel Eugene McCarley, who led the mission in Laos and appeared alongside Rose at Friday’s briefing.
The helicopter was hit by enemy fire, stalling the engine and sending the chopper crashing down 4,500 feet. During the attack, Rose was told that a Marine door gunner on the extraction helicopter had been shot through his neck. Rose was thrown from the helicopter before it crashed and proceeded to crawl back to the chopper as it leaked fuel to recover his comrades, fearing it would explode. Among them was the Marine door gunner.
“When I got to that Marine, I was down to shirt-sleeves and bandanas,” said Rose.
“… What I take great pride in is that had you seen him on that day, you would have not thought he would have made it. The whole front of his neck was just — he was a bloody mess. He was in bad shape, really bad shape. The fact that he lived to 2012, that gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”
When Rose and his teammates did make it back to base, he refused treatment until all of the other men had been attended to.
The Green Berets were members of the classified Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). Details of the mission and the group only came to light in 1998, when the operation was declassified. Until well after that point, Rose hadn’t shared his experience.
“If anybody asked me, I was going to be a mail clerk during the Vietnam War, to keep myself out of trouble,” said Rose, who called it his duty as a professional soldier to abide by his orders to keep the mission secret.
He said that before the mission he and his fellow Green Berets didn’t know what they were headed into but were told to pack double the amount of ammunition they would normally bring along. He decided also to bring along more medical supplies than usual. He said he is s still learning new details about the mission.
Rose was initially nominated for the Medal of Honor following the mission, but in 1971 received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor in the armed forces. He remained in the Army after the Vietnam War, retiring in 1987 as an artillery officer.
“This country needs to recognize these [Vietnam War] veterans for the service that they did,” Rose said Friday. “The recognition didn’t come at the time. And, unfortunately, as time marches on some of this recognition comes — it comes too late for the individual, but it comes for the family.”
During Monday’s ceremony at the White House, Rose was joined by 11 of his MACV-SOG team members, as well as Marine and Air Force helicopter crew members who provided support throughout the mission. President Donald Trump presented him with the medal.
Rose is the second Vietnam veteran to receive the Medal of Honor this year.