President Donald Trump on Monday presented the nation's highest award for valor to a former Green Beret medic for his heroism on a secret operation during the Vietnam War.
At a White House ceremony, Trump presented the Medal of Honor to retired Army Capt. Gary Michael "Mike" Rose for treating as many as 70 wounded soldiers during Operation Tailwind from Sept. 11 to Sept. 14, 1970.
For many years after the war, Rose never spoke of the operation until it was declassified in 1998.
"For many years the story of Mike's heroism has gone untold, but today we gather to tell the world of his valor and proudly present him with our nation's highest military honor," Trump told an audience, which included nine surviving Medal of Honor recipients.
In front of Rose's wife, Margaret, their three children and two grandchildren, Trump described the sacrifices Rose made while acting as the only medic for the 136-man force on Operation Tailwind.
"Helicopters dropped the unit into Laos; before they even touched the ground, enemy fire struck three men," Trump said.
As the unit pushed deeper into enemy territory, it ran into more enemy forces, and took more casualties.
Rose, a sergeant at the time, moved through the enemy fire to treat the mounting numbers of wounded, firing at the enemy in order to get to the wounded men.
Gunfire was so intense that Rose had to crawl from position to position to treat the wounded.
Rose received the most severe of many wounds on the second day of the mission. During an assault by a company-sized element of North Vietnamese Army, one of the Montagnards was wounded 40 to 50 meters outside the company area.
Rose ran, crawled, and maneuvered his way to this wounded man, shielding the soldier with his own body as he treated him.
Rose then dragged the wounded soldier back to the company with one hand while holding back and engaging the enemy with his weapon in the other hand.
"Soon after they returned to their unit, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby and shot smoldering metal into Mike's back and into his leg," Trump said. "He was seriously, seriously wounded. The shrapnel left a gaping hole in Mike's foot.
"For the next, excruciating 48 hours, he used a branch as a crutch and went on rescuing the wounded."
The company had taken so many wounded that a medevac helicopter was called. The helicopter was unable to land in the small opening where the company sought cover, and Rose, standing and fully exposed to the withering enemy fire, attempted to pass the wounded up to the crew on the hovering helicopter.
So intense was the enemy fire, the medevac pilot aborted the mission, and the severely damaged helicopter crashed a few miles away.
Using close air support, Rose's unit was able to break out of their defensive position. Rose improvised litters for the wounded, which now numbered over half the company.
On the last day of the mission, after destroying an enemy base camp, Rose's unit was notified by the forward air controller that over 500 NVA were moving on their position. The company was ordered to a helicopter extraction point as Air Force assets cleared their path, guiding the company to the next landing zone.
The enemy attacked from all sides. Rose's unit set up a perimeter around the LZ.
Rose moved under intense fire from the assaulting NVA to retrieve the friendly dead and wounded and return them to the company defensive perimeter.
The extraction helicopters arrived, but Rose waited to board the last bird, firing at the enemy while he hobbled up the loading ramp.
Shortly after takeoff, the helicopter was "hit by enemy fire," Trump said.
"Mike. This is serious stuff," Trump said, using a touch of humor. "This was not a good four days."
The audience chuckled, listening intently.
Then Marine door gunner was soon shot through his neck.
Rose rushed to his aid and treated him that saved the Marine's life before the helicopter crashed.
"Mike was thrown off the aircraft before it hit the ground, but he raced back to the crash site and pulled one man after another out of the smoking and smoldering helicopter as it spewed jet fuel from its ruptured tanks," Trump said.
Rose continued treat the injured until another helicopter arrived on the scene to extract the men.
"In every action during those four days, Mike valiantly fought for the lives of his comrades, even if it meant the end of his own life," Trump said. "Mike, I have to say, your will to endure, your love for your fellow soldier, your devotion to your country inspires us all. ... Nations are formed under the strength and patriotism that lives in the hearts of our great heroes."
Trump took a moment to recognize the 10 members of Rose's former unit that served alongside of him on Tailwind. Trump asked them to stand as he called each of their names to the audience's applause.
Mike went on to become an officer in the Army, and served for over 20 years, Trump said.
Now, Mike and his, wife Margaret, live in Huntsville, Ala., where he lives by "a core conviction," Trump said.
"You serve your country by fixing your block or fixing your neighborhood," Trump said, describing how Rose volunteers for the American Legion, the Knights of Columbus and many other organizations.
"He volunteers at a local soup kitchen, fixes appliances for the elderly and disabled neighbors, donates his hair for those suffering from cancer, makes lunches for children in need and organizes community gatherings to bring people closer together.
"Mike we honor you, we thank you, we salute you and with hearts full of admiration and pride we present you with the Congressional Medal of Honor."
Trump placed the prestigious medal around Rose's neck as he stood at attention with a solemn expression fixed on his face.
Dressed in his Army dress blue uniform, Rose shook hands with the president and then rendered a salute.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.