Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Medal Of Honor Awarded To Army Medic For Covert Operation During Vietnam War

Retired Army Capt. Gary "Mike" Rose, who served as an Army special forces medic during the Vietnam War, talks to reporters at the Pentagon last week. Monday, Rose received the Medal of Honor.
Paul J. Richards
AFP/Getty Images
Retired Army Capt. Gary "Mike" Rose, who served as an Army special forces medic during the Vietnam War, talks to reporters at the Pentagon last week. Monday, Rose received the Medal of Honor.

The White House has awarded the nation's top honor for bravery to retired Army Capt. Gary "Mike" Rose, a medic who was credited for saving dozens of soldiers' lives during the Vietnam War.

Rose's actions came during a covert mission, Operation Tailwind, that was classified for decades. During the mission, "then-Sergeant Rose repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire to provide critical medical aid to his comrades, using his own body on one occasion to shield a wounded American from harm," the White House said in a statement last month.

"For many years the story of Mike's heroism has gone untold," President Trump said in the award ceremony.

"Mike and his unit slashed through the dense jungle, dodged bullets, dodged explosives," Trump said. "Throughout the engagement, Mike rescued those in distress without any thought for his own safety."

NPR's Tom Bowman has more on that mission:

"Rose and the other Green Berets were told to bring extra ammunition on that September day in 1970. Soon they bundled into heavy lift helicopters with their Vietnamese allies, called the Montagnards, and were banking northeast into Laos. The heavy fire started even before they landed in the dense jungle. ...

"The troops spilled out into the jungle and the firing continued. Over the next four days, Rose sometimes crawled and pulled wounded troops to safety."

"Your job as a medic is to go where the wounded are," Rose told Bowman. And that's what he did — running into enemy fire to retrieve fallen troops, again and again. A rocket striking nearby left him injured himself, but he carried on.

After days in the jungle, a wounded Rose was loading other victims into an evacuation helicopter — which crashed under enemy fire.

He continued to treat the casualties. "It's probably about as worse a nightmare you can possibly have and still be awake," Rose told Bowman.

Bowman continues:

"Rose received the second-highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, a few months after the battle. But soon his commander and later others pushed for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor.

"Rose said the award is for the estimated 2,000 men who served in what was known as MACV-SOG, a secretive group that would over time tie down some 50,000 North Vietnamese troops heading south to fight the Americans. Without that effort, Rose says, there would be a lot more American dead listed on the Vietnam Wall."

"Mike valiantly fought for the life of his comrades," Trump said, turning to Rose. "Your will to endure, your love for your fellow soldier, your devotion to your country inspires us all. I have to tell you, it's really something."

On Friday, at the Pentagon, Rose said it was his job to focus on the wounded.

"When you focus in those kinds of circumstances, you don't concern yourself about getting hurt or killed, because if you dwell on that or think about that, you're not going to be able to focus on what you're supposed to be doing, and you probably will get hurt or killed," Rose said, according to NPR's Alex Ashlock.

Ashlock, reporting for Here & Now, has more on Rose's actions and the history of Operation Tailwind:

" 'Mike never stopped,' said retired Lt. Col. Eugene McCarley, Rose's commanding officer during the battle. 'I know he never slept. I don't know that he ever took time to eat because from day one he had his hands full. I can't think of anyone any more deserving than Mike to receive this award. It's an effort we pushed and we fought for for many, many years ....'

"It took so long, in part, because Operation Tailwind was classified. There was also a controversy in 1998 when CNN and Time magazine reported that the real goal of the mission was to kill American military defectors and that U.S. pilots had dropped deadly sarin nerve gas on civilians, killing many of them. The Pentagon investigated, found the allegations were false and CNN issued an on-air retraction of the story. ...

"Incredibly, no Americans were killed during that four-day battle in Laos, and there were only three fatalities overall. This mission was also a success from an operational standpoint: They came home with a trove of intelligence."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.