Medal of Honor recipient shares story with, expresses appreciation for Arnold AFB craft crews

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

As he recounted his experiences during the Vietnam War, Medal of Honor recipient Gary “Mike” Rose briefly digressed from his narrative several times to convey his gratitude to the craft crews at Arnold Air Force Base gathered to hear him speak.

“Those of us who ended up getting these awards, we couldn’t do it without you guys,” Rose said to those present. “In case somebody has never thanked you, ladies and gentlemen, for what you have done and what you are doing, on behalf of the United States Army, the Medal of Honor Society and myself personally, I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you. You probably will never know how much good you’ve done out there in the world.”

Rose visited Arnold AFB on May 15 to meet and share his story with members of the instrumentation technician and condition-based maintenance craft groups employed at the installation.

Around a year ago, Robert Hastings, an electrician in the CBM crew, began printing out information on Medal of Honor recipients. Their accounts were read during weekly “toolbox” meetings to help remind fellow craft personnel of their purpose at Arnold and the importance of their work. Hastings noticed the website he pulled the Medal of Honor stories from included contact information for the Medal of Honor Society. He reached out to see if any of the recipients would like to visit Arnold and meet with the craft workers. He was put in contact with Rose, who resides in Huntsville, Alabama.

The only thing Rose asked for in exchange for his time was a cup of coffee.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat that can be awarded to members of the armed services, the U.S. Army website states. The medal was first authorized in 1861 for sailors and marines, and for soldiers the following year. Since then, more than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded to members of all Department of Defense services and the Coast Guard.

Rose was awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 23, 2017, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. Rose is credited with saving as many as 70 lives through his dedication to administering treatment to the injured in the face of immense danger.

“Your will to endure, your love for your fellow soldier, your devotion to your country inspires us all,” then-U.S. President Donald Trump said to Rose during his Medal of Honor ceremony. “I have to tell you, that is something. Nations are formed out of the strength and patriotism that lives in the hearts of our heroes.”

In April 1967, a then-19-year-old Rose enlisted in the Army. After attending basic training, Advanced Individual Training and the U.S. Army Jump School, he began Special Forces Training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in October 1967. The following year, he graduated as a Special Forces medic and was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group. In April 1969, he was assigned to the 46th Special Forces Company, headquartered in Lopburi, Thailand. In April of the following year, Rose was reassigned to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group, 5th Special Forces Group.

It was during his time with the 5th Special Forces Group that Rose was involved in Operation Tailwind, the battle for which he would be awarded two Purple Hearts and the Medal of Honor.

Operational Tailwind, which Rose described as a “96-hour gunfight,” occurred near Chavane, Laos, over the four-day period from Sept. 11-14, 1970. Rose was part of a company-sized exploitation force made up of American, Vietnamese and indigenous paramilitary Montagnard personnel.

Rose was the lone medic in the company.

As soon as the company crossed the Laotian border on Marine Corps helicopters, they began taking enemy groundfire for the next 45 minutes, Rose said.

The company was inserted more than 40 miles inside enemy-controlled territory on the first day of the mission.

“We were really deep into Laos,” Rose said. “In fact, it was the deepest penetration a U.S. force has ever made into Laos. We were actually closer to Thailand than we were to Vietnam.”

Casualties were beginning to mount by the time the company made it to the landing zone.

“We hit the LZ, and we had to step over people getting off the helicopter because the wounded were already starting to stack up,” Rose said.

Once on the ground, the company moved deep into enemy territory, according to Rose’s Medal of Honor biography posted on the U.S. Army website. They soon made contact with an enemy squad, and two Americans and two Montagnard soldiers were wounded.

“One of the wounded was trapped outside the company defensive perimeter,” the Medal of Honor biography states. “Rose, engaging the enemy, rushed to get the wounded soldier. Rose rendered expert medical treatment and stabilized the wounded soldier and carried the man through the heavy gunfire back to the company defensive area.”

After the enemy withdrew, the company continued deeper into enemy territory. They then engaged more forces and took more casualties.

“Bravely and courageously, with no regard to his own safety, Rose moved through the enemy fire to render lifesaving medical treatment to the mounting numbers of wounded, personally engaging the enemy in order to get to the wounded men,” the Medal of Honor biography states.

The gunfire was so intense that Rose had to crawl to various positions to treat the wounded. According to the Army, Rose offered words of encouragement as he moved and directed the fires of the inexperienced Vietnamese and Montagnard troops. In the ensuing days, the group marched deeper into the Laotian jungle, all the while defending against continuous attacks.

Rose said Air Force A-1E Skyraider gunships flew overhead to provide near-constant support from the air and help stave off the enemy.

“The only time they weren’t above us was when they were back refueling and rearming,” he said.

Rose sustained multiple injuries during Operation Tailwind, the most severe of which occurred on the second day of the mission.

A Montagnard soldier was wounded 40 to 50 meters outside of the company area during an assault by an element of the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA. According to the U.S. Army, Rose “ran, crawled and maneuvered” his way to the wounded man, shielding the soldier with his own body as he provided medical treatment. Rose then dragged the soldier to the company with one hand while engaging the enemy with the weapon in his other hand.

As Rose was returning with the wounded soldier to the company area, a rocket-propelled grenade landed nearby. Shrapnel from the explosive hit Rose in his back, leg and severely damaged his foot.

“I had a hole blown through my right foot a little bigger than my thumb,” he said. “In fact, that night, when I had gotten all my wounded settled down, I took my boot off to see how bad I was hit, and I stuck my finger in there to see how bad the wound was and it went all the way in to my knuckle.”

An undeterred Rose found a stick to use as a crutch, as he would for the duration of the operation, and continued treating the wounded while forgoing attention to his own wounds.

Although the company was surrounded, on the last evening of the mission, Rose dug trenches for the wounded to treat their injuries. As the company was deluged with enemy fire, Rose remained on the move to treat those injured.

Rose said Air Force AC-130 Spectre aircraft provided air support throughout the evenings.

On the final day of Operation Tailwind, the company was notified after destroying an enemy base camp that more than 500 soldiers with the North Vietnamese Army were moving on their position, according to the Army. The company was ordered to a helicopter extraction point as Air Force pilots cleared a path for them and guided the company to the landing zone. Those in the company set up a perimeter around the landing zone as the enemy attacked from all angles.

While Rose worked to retrieve wounded soldiers and return them to the company perimeter to administer medical treatment, extraction helicopters began to arrive.

Rose was among the last in the company to leave, boarding the final extraction helicopter after helping keep enemy soldiers at bay. After those in the company were loaded, numerous NVA soldiers overran the vacated landing zone. Enemy soldiers were only around 50 meters from the helicopter Rose had boarded, according to the Army.

Not long after liftoff, the helicopter was struck by anti-aircraft rounds. At around, 4,500 feet in the air, Rose heard what he described as “the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in my life.” It was the sound of the helicopter engine stopping.

“One of us says to the other, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna crash.’ The other one said, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Rose recalled. “And we just sat there arm-in-arm watching the ground come up.”

To compound the situation, Rose was notified that the Marine gunner on the door had been shot through the neck. Rose acted quickly in an attempt to save his fellow soldier’s life.

The soldier was going into shock, but Rose relied on his training to snap the gunner out of this state.

“When I got to him, I could see his trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries. He was bleeding like you wouldn’t believe,” Rose said. “But by then, I had nothing left, so I stabilized his neck, so they tell me because I don’t remember doing it, with shirt sleeves. I was literally taking shirt sleeves from people, kerchiefs. I got it wrapped around his neck.”

Rose would later find out the gunner survived and that Eugene McCarley, a U.S. Army captain during Vietnam and Operation Tailwind group commander, met the Marine in 1991.

“I thought he had died,” Rose said of the gunner. “[McCarley] said, ‘No, he has two silver dollar scars below each ear. He’s doing fine.’”

McCarley retired as a lieutenant colonel after more than 30 years of service. He passed away in November 2018.

When Rose received the call in 2017 that he would be receiving the Medal of Honor and the invite to attend the awards ceremony at the White House, he asked the colonel overseeing the ceremony if the Marine gunner could be present. A few days later, the colonel got back to Rose with a photograph that had been taken for the Army. It was the tombstone of the gunner.

“I said, ‘Oh, that’s a shame,’ and she looked at me and said, ‘Capt. Rose, look at the date of his death,’” Rose said. “It was 2012. What I did that day in 1970 gave him another 42 years of life. He went home from Vietnam, he got married, had four children and I think, at the time, he had like eight grandchildren. And I’m thinking something I did for, I don’t know, two or three minutes had a long-lasting legacy.

“That, for me, is my reward for service in Vietnam, that another man had a good life.”

After Rose administered treatment to the wounded door gunner, the helicopter crashed only a few kilometers away from the initial extraction point. The aircraft was smoking and leaking fuel, and some soldiers onboard were injured in the crash. Rose himself was thrown from the helicopter before it made impact. Despite this, he crawled into the wreckage to help pull wounded company members to safety. He continued to administer medical treatment until another helicopter arrived to extract the soldiers.

“The reason we were in there for four days was – we were only supposed to be in there for one day – because it took them three days to get us out,” Rose said. “Every time they tried to evacuate us, we lost another helicopter.”

Upon return to the base, a wounded and blood-covered Rose continued to refuse treatment of his own wounds until the other injured men were attended to first, according to the Army.

“By the end of the fourth day, we literally, literally had about 80 of the 136 people who couldn’t really move unless they had help,” he said.

While numerous soldiers in the company were wounded during Operation Tailwind, only three of the 136-man company died during the four-day conflict.

Rose said this is in great part due to the support fire provided by Air Force pilots throughout Operation Tailwind and the expertise of Marine helicopter pilots during the extraction.

“Those guys who flew that day, the Air Force guys, even to this day they’ll come to our annual conventions and such,” Rose said. “They don’t pay for rooms. They don’t pay for a drink or a meal. Not as long as they live. We are alive today because of those Marine and Air Force airpersons.”

Rose added the soldiers on the ground and pilots in the air are not able to do what they do without support away from the battlefield, such as the work performed by craft crews at Arnold.

“To bring this back to you guys, there are people that are in very dangerous situations that somehow every one of you have been involved in with a wrench, meter or shipping it or packing it or hanging it or whatever you’re doing,” Rose said to the craft workers. “That goes someplace and goes to that unit, and those people are able to go and complete their mission.”

Rose retired from the U.S. Army in May 1987.

In addition to the Medal of Honor and two Purple Hearts, Rose’s other military awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster and “V” device, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Army Achievement Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal, among other medals, citations and service ribbons.

“It doesn’t hurt to just say to you guys, ‘thank you,’” Rose said to those present for his visit. “Your predecessors during my day did a bang-up job keeping the Air Force in the air and, without those aircraft, our names would be on that wall in D.C.

“I can honestly tell you I wouldn’t have the life I’ve had over the last almost 80 years without the gentlemen and ladies in rooms like this all over the country, and overseas for that matter. You deserve a ‘thank you,’ and what you’ve done is just as important as what the veterans, the military, does. You just do it in a different capacity.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for everything you do every day of the week.”