Army Special Forces medic to receive Medal of Honor on Monday
By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 2017
WASHINGTON – For nearly three decades, retired Army Capt. Gary Michael Rose told no one about his harrowing four-day secret mission to Laos during the Vietnam War.
Rose, then a sergeant and Special Forces medic, had saved multiple lives, including a Marine crewman shot in the neck as the helicopter they rode in dropped from the sky.
Still, Rose told no one until the mission was declassified in the late 1990s.
“Zero,” he recalled, of the people he told until then. “When we left… basically the unit did not exist. And was not acknowledged for almost 30 years.”
Today, Rose, 70, is sharing his story somewhat reluctantly. On Monday, Rose is slated to receive the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump during a White House ceremony. Ten members who were on the ground with Rose in Laos, along with family and friends, will join him.
“I wish it was still secret,” a modest Rose joked Friday during a roundtable discussion at the Pentagon. “I’m not used to the notoriety.”
The effort is a long time in the making, coming more than 47 years after Rose’s heroic actions on Sept. 11-14, 1970.
Among the people aiding the effort for Rose to receive the nation’s highest military honor was his friend, Lt. Col. Eugene McCarley, who was at Friday’s discussion and will attend Monday’s event.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with him knowing he’s going to be the recipient of the Medal of Honor,” McCarley said
Rose, who was a Green Beret, was given the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest medal for valor, four months after the mission in 1971. Monday’s Medal of Honor is considered an upgrade of that award.
The honors recognized Rose’s valiant efforts in Vietnam as he traveled with the unit, which was called the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group, or MACSOG. He suffered wounds from bullets and rockets as well as a helicopter crash.
He is credited with saving more than 100 comrades during the mission.
Rose was the only medic among 16 Green Berets and 120 Vietnamese tribal fighters known as Montagnards traveling in the covert unit. They were dropped in the Laotian jungle Sept. 11 for the mission known as Operation Tailwind. As they moved into enemy territory to a North Vietnamese encampment, they almost immediately came under heavy fire and the force took multiple casualties.
In several cases, Rose used his own body as a human shield to protect members of his unit, even as he was wounded, and continued to treat others. “My focus was to take care of the guys who were hurt,” Rose recalled. “You just got to do your job and keep moving down the road.”
In the end, every soldier would be wounded, three Montagnards were killed and three helicopters crashed.
On Friday, Rose reiterated the medal will belong to his MACSOG unit, others who fought at that time and recognizes the efforts of the troops who did and didn’t make it back from the mission.
“This medal, I consider a collective medal,” Rose said. “For all of us who fought on the ground, in the Air Force and the Marines on Operation Tailwind. In a greater sense, it also honors the Special Forces during this time frame.”
He retired from the Army in 1987 and worked as an instructional designer in the private sector.
After the mission, Rose went on to officer candidate school, got married, had children and went to work as an instructional designer in the private sector. He retired from the Army in 1987.
He’s now a grandfather.
“From my children, I get the idea, they are kind of pretty proud of their dad,” Rose said.
Congressional action was required to allow Rose to receive the Medal of Honor since it came more than five years after the heroic actions. Congress authorized a waiver in the form of legislation tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act passed earlier this year.
Rose, who lives in Alabama, said his efforts were helped along by a long list of friends, Pentagon officials and legislators.
Rose grew up southern California and enlisted in the Army in 1967. He has also received three Purple Hearts.
Rose’s award will mark the second time Trump has presented the Medal of Honor. James McCloughan, also a Vietnam War medic, received the award on July 31.
Retired Army Capt. Gary Michael Rose, left, shares a laugh with Retired Army Lt. Col. Eugene McCarley Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 at the Pentagon. Rose will be presented the Medal of Honor on Monday for his actions during a four-day mission into Laos in 1970 as a member of an Army Special Forces team during the Vietnam War. McCarley was the commander for the mission, known as Operation Tailwind.
COREY DICKSTEIN/STARS AND STRIPES