Retired Capt. Gary “Mike” Rose is slated to receive the Medal of Honor at the White House, Monday. Rose, a Special Forces medic, provided lifesaving medical treatment to over 50 wounded teammates while on a mission across the Vietnamese border in Laos in 1970.
In an exclusive interview with The Paraglide, Rose explained that the Medal of Honor would serve as testament to all Soldiers and was not a personal feat.
“The medal itself, I consider a collective medal, and by that, I mean it’s a recognition of the people that served in MACSOG (Military Assistance Command Studies and Observation Group), and to a greater extent the people that have served in Special Forces, and even in a larger sense it brings attention to the fact that many men and women served in that time frame with great distinction and honor and courage and did not do anything but outstanding work. (They) worked hard and tried to do the best they could under some very difficult circumstances, and the heroism and courage, I think it has been equaled, but it hasn’t been surpassed,” he said.
A Hero’s Beginnings
Born in 1947, Rose enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 as an infantryman. He attended basic training at Fort Ord, California. During additional training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, Rose recalled being pulled from regular training by a Green Beret to complete an assessment. He said at the time, he was unaware of the Green Beret’s significance.
Rose took several tests given by the recruiter and received orders that sent him to jump school and then Special Forces. He said yes to these new opportunities based on his father’s advice.
“My dad said, ‘If they offer you something school-wise … take it because it’s only going to benefit you,” Rose explained.
Upon arrival at Fort Bragg in September of 1967, he underwent additional testing that determined he would train as a Special Forces medic.
The training was long and rigorous. It included a ten-week medical course at Fort Bragg, 15 weeks of medical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, eight weeks at a Fort Knox, Kentucky hospital working through multiple medical disciplines and then a return to Fort Bragg for eight weeks of additional medical training.
Rose recalled his time at Fort Bragg and in Fayetteville well.
“We lived up in Smoke Bomb Hill and I remember we would go out to the Main PX (Post Exchange) … there was this big steam pipe and it rose above the ground, about 20 feet above the ground. For us to get to the PX, back in those days, really quick, we would walk that thing. I guess you weren’t supposed to ...”
He also said Hay Street in downtown Fayetteville was famous in its own right.
“It was the last place in the United States where armed MPs (military police) actually walked down the streets in a civilian town.”
In 1970, after Rose’s first tour as a Green Beret, he was reassigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, under the umbrella of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Rose was assigned to Company B- exploitation force, or Hatchet Force, with MACVSOG Command and Control Central. CC Central’s area of operation was primarily Laos and some areas in Northern Cambodia. Company B was structured as a very light infantry company and was made up of 120 indigenous individuals, or Montagnards, and 16 Americans.
The Battle
Operation Tailwind, intended to aid a CIA mission, and Rose’s second combat mission in Vietnam, began on Sept. 11, 1970.
The CIA needed to secure the Bolaven Plateau and its airfields in Laos, which could be valuable ground to the ever-changing Ho Chi Minh Trail, an underground route for supplies and forces aiding the North Vietnamese Army.
“It would just give them freedom of the trail,” mission commander then Capt., now Retired Lt. Col. Eugene McCarley told Army News. “And they could have done just about anything they wanted to. The CIA did not want to lose, they couldn't afford to lose the airfields on the plateau. So, our job was to go in and create a diversion and draw troops away from that operation.”
Rose had a feeling this mission would be different because he was asked to load up on more ammo and medical equipment than normal.
“I knew something was up, and, also, we were given escape routes so that was a bit different,” he said.
The group began to take fire as it landed and, according to an Army report, took fire almost continuously for the next four days.
Rose retrieved wounded Soldiers from outside of defensive perimeters, engaging the enemy to provide lifesaving treatment to the wounded Soldiers and, when necessary, carrying them back to safety through heavy gunfire.
After retrieving one wounded Soldier, Rose was sprayed with the shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade and suffered wounds to his back, leg and foot.
However, Rose continued to treat the wounded men in his care, using a makeshift crutch to walk.
“Despite his own debilitating wounds, Rose never took time to eat, rest, or care for his own wounds while treating his fellow soldiers,” said the official Army statement.
On the final day of the mission, the company was ordered to a helicopter extraction point, and warned over 500 NVA were closing on their position.
Rose boarded the final helicopter, after providing accurate suppressing fire and ensuring all in his care made it out first.
Once the final medevac helicopter reached 4,500 feet, Rose described hearing the engine stop.
As the helicopter plummeted Rose administered life-saving care to a wounded Marine. After the crash, he continued to treat the wounded, crawling into the wreckage to retrieve his teammates, despite the possibility that the wreckage might explode at any moment.
Eventually, another helicopter arrived and evacuated the men from the crash. Even on his return to base, Rose refused care until all his men had been seen, according to the Army account.
Over a four-day period, Rose is credited with caring for more than 50 men, and despite the number of wounded, three men were dead when the dust settled.
A Man of Duty and Responsibility
Rose attributes his commitment and bravery to being a man of his word.
“You’re the medic; you’re there to do what you need to do to get the wounded and the injured back to a facility where qualified nurses and doctors can start the repair and the rehabilitation process … but there is another aspect to that too,” said Rose.
He said acting as a medic also means serving as a beacon of hope.
“…you not only try to conserve them physically; you (also) have to show compassion and kindness to the wounded,” Rose explained. “That’s how you get them through it, the shock and what they have gone through … You focus on what you’re supposed to do, and when someone goes down, that’s your job. You’re responsible for going to that person, to get there and help them. The driving force is duty and your responsibility. That is what you’re there for.”