President Trump awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Gary Michael Rose for his service as a medic in Vietnam today. With that, Rose has become one of the prestigious award's 73 living recipients more than 48 years after the fact.
On September 11, 1970, Rose, then 22, and 15 other American soldiers of the Army’s Fifth Special Forces Group were dispatched to Laos sub-rosa to help Vietnamese fighters cut the North Vietnamese forces’ supply lines – dubbed Operation Tailwind. Before his 136-strong company even landed, three were hit.
For four days Rose and company drew heavy fire from North Vietnamese troops day and night. Many were wounded, but only three men died; then-Pvt. Rose treated between 60 and 70 injured men, according to the Army’s battle narrative. Throughout that time, Rose was wounded in the back, leg and foot, where a finger-sized hole was blown.
Rose did not expect to return home alive. And as the president recounted his accomplishments in the White House’s east room, the captain maintained a tight frown and a strong blush.
“As Mike puts it, ‘If you don’t believe in God, then you should have been with us that day. And I can tell you, it’ll make a believer out of you because we should not [ever] have survived,’” the president said in his address. “Mike, today, we have a room full of people and a nation who thank God that you lived.”
Rose, using a fallen branch as a cane, continued to treat the wounded, ignoring his own injuries, until a rescue helicopter arrived. It was shot down soon after taking off, and Rose was thrown from the fuselage, but the captain managed to drag the wounded crew and passengers away from the burning wreck by the time a second helicopter arrived.
But Rose’s actions were marred by controversy when a 1997 CNN/Time investigation reported his unit had used sarin nerve gas and committed other war crimes during the operation. The reporting turned out to be mistaken, and both news outlets retracted the story.
“You've earned the eternal gratitude of the entire American nation. You faced down the evils of communism, you defended our flag, and you showed the world the unbreakable resolve of the American Armed Forces,” the president said. “Thank you.”
Now 70 and a father of three, Rose lives in Huntsville, Alabama, and works with the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion and local soup kitchens. He spent more than 20 years in the Army before retiring in May 1987 as a captain.
Rose made clear that he was accepting the award “in honor of all those individuals who served in the military.”
“This is our medal,” he said, “not mine.”
Trump steered clear of mentioning his week-long spat with a Democratic congresswoman from Florida and a Gold Star widow in Florida over what he said in a call to offer the widow condolences.