47 years after Vietnam War secret mission, Green Beret to receive Medal of Honor

Gary Michael Rose receives the Distinguished Service Cross from Gen. Creighton Abrams, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, for heroism during Operation Tailwind.


By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2017

WASHINGTON — A retired Army Green Beret credited with saving multiple lives during a covert four-day mission into Laos to target North Vietnamese soldiers operating there will receive the Medal of Honor next month, 47 years after his heroic actions, the White House announced Wednesday.

President Donald Trump will present the military’s highest honor to retired Army Capt. Gary Michael Rose on Oct. 23 at the White House, an upgrade of the Distinguished Service Cross Rose received in 1971. Rose was awarded the nation’s second highest medal for valor just four months after the Special Forces mission in which he survived bullet and rocket wounds and a helicopter crash to provide life-saving aid to more than 100 comrades, according to the award citation.

Soldiers who served with him, lawmakers and Pentagon officials have lobbied for several years for Rose’s award to be upgraded, which required a special waiver passed by Congress and presidential approval.

In an Army statement, Rose said the Medal of Honor belongs to the secretive unit he served with during the Vietnam War, the Army’s Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group.

“That medal, to me, recognizes finally the service of all the men in all those years that served in MACSOG,” Rose, 69, said in the statement. “It’s a collective medal from my perspective [which represents] all the courage and honor and dedication to duty that those men served.”

Rose, then a sergeant, was the only medic among 16 Green Berets and 120 Vietnamese tribal fighters called Montagnards when they were dropped by helicopter on Sept. 11, 1970 into the Laotian jungle on a mission, dubbed Operation Tailwind, to raid a North Vietnamese encampment. The elite Studies and Observations Group was based in southern Vietnam from where it routinely led such missions into Laos, leading the U.S. covert war against North Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The force came under fire almost immediately after it was dropped off.

By the operation’s end, every American and Montagnard soldier would be wounded – including three Montagnards killed – and three Marine helicopters would crash, including one with Rose inside, according to accounts provided by the Army.

During the four days of the mission, the Green Berets and Montagnards moved 15 miles through the jungle, facing “well-armed” platoon- and company-sized enemy units, according to the award citation.

On the second day of the mission, one of the Montagnards was wounded so badly that he could not escape to cover as rocket and mortar rounds fell on the group. Rose ran 50 meters through enemy fire and used his own body to shield the wounded soldier from further injury as he treated him, the citation read. After stopping the blood flow, Rose then carried the man back through a field of enemy fire to protective cover.

Throughout the mission, Rose continued to brave enemy fire to treat wounded comrades, often ignoring his own injuries, according to the award citation.

“Despite the deadly volleys falling around him, Sgt. Rose displayed a calm professionalism as he administered medical treatment to countless men. Two were so severely wounded that they would have died without the sergeant’s vigilant care,” the citation read.

As the mission came to an end, the helicopter carrying Rose from the battle was hit by an enemy anti-aircraft round, according to the Army. As the chopper fell, Rose saw a Marine helicopter crewman had been shot in the neck. He rendered life-saving medical aid to the Marine before the helicopter crashed, throwing Rose from the aircraft.

With the helicopter leaking fuel and smoking, Rose crawled back into the downed aircraft to pull his wounded comrades from the wreckage and administered medical treatment until another helicopter arrived to remove them from the fight, according to the Army.

“On return to base, Rose, covered in blood and wounds, refused all treatment until the other wounded men were attended to first,” according to the Army statement.

Rose, who grew up in southern California, enlisted in the Army in 1967. After returning from the Vietnam War, he was commissioned as an officer, remaining in the service until he retired in 1987 as a captain, according to Army records. His other awards include two Bronze Star Medals with “V” device for valor and three Purple Hearts.

Rose’s award will mark the second time that Trump has presented the Medal of Honor. The other recipient, James McCloughan, also a Vietnam War medic, was presented the award on July 31.

Though Rose said the award belonged to all of the men from his unit, he also said he was honored to have the opportunity to receive it.

“I am going to have the privilege of being able to meet the president of the United States with my dear wife, in the Oval Office, I have been told,” he said in the Army statement. “And that is something I will treasure until the end of my days.”

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

Green Beret medic Gary Michael Rose walks with fellow troops after Operation Tailwind in 1970.