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This Day in History: Gary M. Rose & His Medal of Honor

On this day in 1970, a Special Forces Medic concludes a four-day mission. Then-Sergeant Gary Michael “Mike” Rose had saved the lives of dozens of soldiers during his long ordeal.

Rose had been participating in Operation Tailwind, a secret mission into Laos during the Vietnam War. Even after Rose came home from war, he wouldn’t speak of it for decades.

The mission began on September 11, when Marine helicopters inserted a combined force of Americans and Montagnards deep into enemy territory.

Almost immediately, that force was under attack. Unfortunately, one soldier got trapped outside the company’s defensive perimeter. He was wounded, and Rose rushed to find him, carrying him back to relative safety. Similar scenes would repeat themselves throughout the day as Rose braved enemy fire to get to wounded men.

“Your job [as a combat medic] is to maintain the person’s life,” Rose later described, “to keep them out of shock . . . .You’ve got to talk to the person. You’ve got to convince them that they’re going to be fine . . . even in the chaos of battle.”

During the second day of conflict, Rose would unfortunately join the ranks of the wounded.

He’d been dragging a wounded soldier out of harm’s way with one hand, even as he used his other to fire at the enemy. Suddenly, a rocket-propelled grenade landed nearby and exploded. Rose was hit with shrapnel.

“I got a hole blown through my foot about the size of my thumb,” he later described.

The wound left him hobbling, using a stick as a crutch. But he didn’t quit. He could still be found dashing around, ministering to the wounded, and dragging soldiers to safety.

Later, a journalist would interview Rose, marveling that he never stopped, throughout the four-day ordeal.

But Rose couldn’t stop. It was “my job,” he responded. “I was responsible for the health and welfare, I guess, of the 135 men that were with me. As they went down, I went to their aid. That’s what I was supposed to do.”

By September 14, Rose and his men were running out of ammunition and food, but fortunately they were finally being evacuated.

Naturally, Rose was on the last helicopter out, but that helicopter was taking punishment from enemy fire. It hadn’t gone far when the helicopter’s engines failed. They were going to crash.

“The next thing I know, a Marine tapped me on the shoulder,” Rose later said. “He’d gotten hit in the throat.” Rose still can’t believe the Marine survived: “I can tell you this much, God decided that he wasn’t going to die that day.” Rose stabilized the Marine, but the two were thrown from the helicopter just before it hit the ground.

Rose knew he had to get back to the helicopter wreckage. People would be hurt.

Remember, the helicopter could explode at any minute, but Rose kept administering medical care and pulling people from the wreckage. Finally, another extraction helicopter arrived.

He doesn’t remember the helicopter ride back to base. And for many decades, no one would really know what he’d done. In 2017, however, Rose was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

He’s been credited with saving 60 to 70 men during the course of his four days in Laos, but he doesn’t believe that he deserves the Medal.

“I think I’ve been over-recognized for what I did,” he said. “To me, the real heroes, you can go to the Wall and read their names. . . . I honestly feel if I had not done what I did, I would have failed not only myself, but my fellows in the Army, and I had a personal responsibility to all three of us.”

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