Army medic to accept Medal of Honor for all who served in Laos

by TODD LOPEZ October 7, 2017

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- "Do you know how you can tell the veterans from the new guys?" asked Mike Rose, relaying advice given to him decades ago by his father.

"The new guys are kind of looking around, seeing what's going on," Rose said. "The veterans are over there shaking and can hardly keep hold of their rifle because they have been there before and know what's about to happen."

Rose, who will receive the Medal of Honor, Oct. 23, for his actions as a combat medic in Laos, Sept. 11-14, 1970, discussed his first flight into combat aboard a military helicopter. That happened in June 1970, three months before the mission that would earn him the nation's highest award for military valor.

"On my first ride I was somewhat like that," Rose said. "You're looking at the terrain, you're looking around like you're on one of those helicopter rides as a tourist in Hawaii. But it wasn't Hawaii. And then you hit the ground, and that's when the fun starts. What my father said proved to be true."

Rose's dad might have been spot-on about combat, likely because he had some perspective on the subject. He had served in the Marine Corps in World War II. And Rose, just 22 years old when he first entered Laos, and having been in the Army only three years at the time, likely took with him any advice his father had given him about the military, as well as the advice of other family members who had also served.

WATERTOWN TO THE WEST COAST

A baby-boomer, Rose was born in 1947, in Watertown, New York, a city up north near the Canadian border, and part of the military community that surrounds nearby Fort Drum.

Rose's father had been a Marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II, in places like Guadalcanal and Okinawa; he left the Corps as a staff sergeant after the war and moved to Watertown with Rose's mother.

While in the Marines, Rose said his father was both a rifleman -- like every Marine -- and a mechanic. Two years after Rose was born, his father was offered a chance to capitalize on the experience he had gained while in uniform.

"He'd gotten a job offer to go and work at an aircraft plant as a mechanic in southern California," Rose said. "So in 1949, my dad and mom and I moved from Watertown to Southern California. I was 2 years old."

His father wasn't the only one in the family who had military experience, Rose said. While his dad had been a Marine, he also had uncles who served in the Navy, and cousins, he said, that served at various times in wars and in between wars.

He said his family has had "in one capacity or another, since 1917, people serving in the military."

His mother, he said, was involved in the war effort as well. "She was a 'Rosie the Riveter,'" he said, working in a facility that manufactured aircraft.

"She tells me one time she was riveting the side of a B-24, and was distracted and riveted her hand to the side of the aircraft," Rose said. "She would ask 'You know what hurts worse than riveting your hand to the side of an aircraft?' I had no idea. She said 'When they removed the rivet from your hand that's attached to the side of the aircraft. That hurts a lot.'"

Rose himself flirted with the service at an early age. In fourth, fifth and sixth grades, he attended the now-shuttered Sepulveda Military Academy in Sepulveda, California.

"I did fairly well. I made first sergeant," he said of his schooling at the military academy. "My mother wanted me to have a better start. I got a good education there. I developed a study ethic in that three years that carried me all the way through college. It was worth it."

Following high school, Rose attended college for about 18 months, he said. "But by the end of 1966, I was just running out of money."

Only 19 at the time, he decided to look into the armed forces.

ARMY GREENS

In April 1967, the United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and the nation was drafting young men to go fight.

"I was in the North Hollywood draft board area," Rose recalled. "And they were heavily drafting at that time. A lot of the draftees in that area were ending up in the Marine Corps. I knew there was a very good chance I was going to get drafted. And I didn't want to be a draftee in the Marine Corps. So I went down and I joined the Army."

He said he knew if he enlisted, he'd have a better chance of making his own decisions about what he wanted to do while in uniform than he would if the military snatched him up off the street as a draftee and told him where to go.

As an enlistee, or volunteer, rather than a draftee, Rose would be considered among the "Regular Army Soldiers," rather than a "U.S. Army Soldier," something he said was reflected in his service number. He recited it as if giving a reporting statement: "RA18846904."

"I will go to my grave remembering that," he said. "The first two months I was in the Army, you couldn't go to bed, you couldn't eat, you couldn't go to the bathroom without telling the drill sergeant your service number."

After volunteering to enlist, Rose was shipped off to basic training at Fort Ord, California, right up the coast from where his own family lived. Shortly after, he shipped off to Fort Gordon, Georgia -- clear across the country -- to train as an "indirect fire infantryman," or mortarman.

It was there, he said, where the trajectory of his Army career would change dramatically.

Rose described having taken some kind of test, similar to a component of today's Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery -- which is a prerequisite now for any young American to join the military. He'd done well on that test, he said, good enough that it attracted attention from some of the Army's most elite Soldiers, the Special Forces.

"Some guy in a green beret came by," Rose said. "I didn't know what Special Forces was then. You'd get called out of formation and go into this room and talk to this recruiter. It sounded interesting, so I said why not?"

Toward the end of his infantry training, Rose found that he had orders to jump school -- a Special Forces requirement. He also had orders to go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for more Special Forces training, and assignment to a new military occupational specialty.

At Fort Bragg, Rose said, it was determined he could best serve the Special Forces as a combat medic.

It took about 18 months for Rose to complete the basic training at Fort Ord, the infantry training at Fort Gordon, and the Special Forces and combat medic training at Fort Bragg. After that, he said, he was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group -- also at Fort Bragg.

Rose said he knew two things for sure after that first 18 months in the Army. The first, he said, was that he still wasn't really ready to deploy overseas to a combat zone. "There was still a lot more you needed to learn," he said. "When I wasn't in the field with my unit, I would be up at the hospital."

The other thing he knew for sure, he said, "I really wanted to get out of Fort Bragg."

Rose said he learned that at 18 months, the Army offered Soldiers who had been drafted the opportunity to enlist -- if, for instance, they had come to love the Army way of life.

While he hadn't been drafted, he learned that he too could re-up in the Army at 18 months and extend his time in uniform. That action on his part, he said, was a surefire way to get out of Fort Bragg.

So in February of 1969, he said, he told the Army he'd like a little more time in uniform than what he initially signed up for. And in exchange, the Army sent him overseas -- to Thailand.

MORE PAD THAI, PLEASE

Arriving at the 46th Special Forces Company in Thailand, Rose was farther away from home than he'd ever been -- a full 8,000 miles.

He'd been out of the United States before, he said, on day trips to Canada or Mexico. But Thailand was totally new. And while the cultural learning experience there would inevitably enrich him personally, the professional opportunities he experienced would make him a better Soldier and combat medic.

"I'm glad I did that," he said. "Working in Thailand, I learned more about -- not combat stuff -- but my medical skills went way up."

In Thailand, he worked with the Thai National Police Force, in Bangkok, and the team treated ax wounds, typhoid and other medical issues.

Rose also helped stand up a medical training school there for Thai nationals who were members of the police force.

"They wanted them to be trained. They didn't have a school," Rose said. "What we did was we created curriculum. We ran the first couple of classes through in Bangkok."

After Rose and fellow noncommissioned officers trained the trainers, the Americans pulled out of the school, leaving further training and the fate of the school in the capable hands of the Thais.

Rose spent only a year in Thailand before he volunteered for service in Vietnam.

IN THE THICK OF IT

Rose arrived in Vietnam in April 1970. That's where he first reported to MACSOG, the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group, and where he would, only two months later, make his first foray into combat in nearby Laos.

On that first helicopter ride to Laos, he said, "That's when it hit me, holy ... whatever. What have I gotten myself into?"

While his actions on that first mission in Laos would earn him a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor, it would be his second trip to Laos, in September 1970, during "Operation Tailwind," where his actions as a Solider, as a medic, and as a man, would earn him the recognition of the entire nation.

In Vietnam, and as part of MACSOG, Rose was one of many medics assigned as part of a dispensary system. He and the other medics, about ten in all, were regularly tapped to go on operational missions with MACSOG units.

For the Sept. 11, 1970 mission, Rose was selected to participate as the medic on what would be his second trip into Laos.

Then-Capt. Gene McCarley -- who would eventually retire from the Army as a lieutenant colonel -- would be commander for that mission, which would be called Operation Tailwind. He said he had met Rose just a few months earlier and already thought highly of him.

"Mike was a very competent individual," McCarley said. "He was a good Soldier. And I think the best thing I could say about Mike is that he is probably the kind of individual that a mother would want their daughter to marry. He was just, in addition to being a top-notch medic and a good Soldier, he was an all-around good person."

What would Tailwind accomplish in Laos? McCarley said their mission would support a Central Intelligence Agency operation that was already underway.

"Our mission was, we were a diversionary force," McCarley said. "The CIA, along with a Laotian force, were in control of what they called the Bolaven Plateau. It is an enormous plateau up in Laos, with several airfields on it."

Pathet Lao, or communist Laotian forces, along with North Vietnamese Army forces, were attacking those airfields. Friendly forces, the Hmong, who were being led by the CIA, were in danger of losing the airfields as a result of those attacks. "That would have been a disaster," McCarley said.

"The CIA director came to special operations group and asked us if we could insert personnel a short distance away from this airfield and just go in and start a fight and create a diversion and draw some of the troops away from the airfield," McCarley said.

The plateau and the airstrips, in southern Laos, lay near the path of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which communist Vietnamese used to supply their own forces. Having control of the airstrips on the Bolaven Plateau would have made things easier on the NVA.

"It would just give them freedom of the trail," McCarley said. "And they could have done just about anything they wanted to. The CIA did not want to lose, they couldn't afford to lose the airfields on the plateau. So our job was to go in and create a diversion and draw troops away from that operation."

Where Operation Tailwind Soldiers needed to be inside Laos was farther than Rose expected, he said. Rose said he recalled that he was struck by the length of the flight that took them from their launch point inside Vietnam -- which was just minutes by air from the Laos border -- to their final destination. A total of about 45 minutes in the air, he said, traveling at a speed of some 100 MPH or more, meant they were deep inside the country.

"So we're way in there," he said.

Rose also said he knew the mission would be tougher than what he had experienced the first time going into Laos, in part because he was told to carry many more medical supplies than what he felt he would normally take with him.

"Most of my rucksack, and my pockets and my pants had medical supplies," Rose said. "Koch, my Montagnard medic, had basically the same stuff. And every American, their left breast pocket, I owned that. I put morphine in there and I put extra stuff I might need."

The Soldiers on the mission knew too that they were in for the kind of trouble Rose characterized more than once as "deep doo doo."

McCarley said he had told the Soldiers to prepare for the worst.

"We didn't know what we were going to run into," McCarley said. "We knew we were probably going to meet with a lot of enemy resistance but we had absolutely no intelligence, simply because the U.S. troops had never been that deep into Laos. So when I got the mission, I assembled my company sergeants and I just told them we had what appeared to be a real tough mission and to go extra heavy on ammunition and any kind of munitions that they desired to carry and the demolitions, the C4. We went in about twice as heavy as we would normally go on a hatchet force mission."

Also different this time was that he entered Laos with a company-sized element, rather than a platoon-sized element, as he'd done the first time. In that company were about 120 Montagnard fighters who were Vietnamese, and 16 American Soldiers, including himself.

"The second time, I knew more," Rose said of their movement into Laos. "By then, you're a veteran. You've seen the elephant dance, as they used to say. The second time, it's a little scarier, because you've seen the results of what mortars and rockets and men getting hit with a bullet can do."

It was late morning on Sept. 11, 1970, when Rose entered Laos for the second time. And members of that team were already sustaining the kind of injuries that would take them out of the fight, even before they touched down on the ground, Rose said.

Flying into Laos at around 4,000 feet, and escorted by Air Force A1E aircraft, Rose said their helicopter was already being hit with rounds fired from the ground as they approached their landing zone.

About six of the Montagnards fighters were injured as a result of that gunfire, Rose said. Those men, while not killed by their injuries, never left the aircraft, but were instead taken back to be patched up. That left about 130 U.S. Soldiers and Montagnards to complete the Operation Tailwind mission.

"We actually had to step over them to get out of the helicopter," Rose said.

Getting off that helicopter in Laos, he said, he and his teammates encountered enemy combatants right away.

"People got hurt immediately," Rose said. "We hit the ground, and we were skirmishing from the first day. We started taking injuries. It was a running gun fight for four days."

Right away, he said, his buddy, Sgt. 1st Class Bernie Bright, was hit in the head. Another Soldier took a round through his protective mask, though Rose said that later proved to be not as bad as was initially suspected. Two Montagnard fighters were also killed on the first day, he said.

Rose himself took a bullet that first day, though as he remembered, it turned out to have been much less damaging than it could have been. Rose said he'd brought with him a canteen strapped to his side, with a tube running to his mouth so he could drink. That lasted only one day in combat.

After receiving gunfire, he thought he felt blood running down his leg. "I realized it was water," he said. He survived, but his canteen was among the first casualties.

The second day on the ground in Laos, Rose found himself tending to the bodies of the two Montagnard fighters who had been killed the day prior. It was then he would receive the most serious injuries of the mission.

"I had their bodies wrapped in ponchos. We had good intention to take them with us," Rose said. "And I was messing with that and that's when the rocket-propelled grenade went off. And that's when I got hit in the foot and the hand and the back. And I ... the wound in my foot was about the size of ... about a half-inch in diameter."

While Rose was tending to the dead, he said an enemy fighter had fired on him with a B40 round -- a rocket-propelled grenade -- from about 30 feet away.

"That night I took my boot off and I slipped this finger into my foot," he said, holding up his hand and finger. "I pulled it back out and I thought, well, I'll deal with that later. So I put my sock and boot back on and didn't think about it for another two days. When you're worried about your ass, a hole in your foot doesn't even make the list."

McCarley remembers the injury Rose suffered from the RPG attack. He also remembers Rose's selfless dedication to the men he was responsible for keeping alive.

"He wrapped his boots back on his foot with a bandage and hobbled around on a crutch the remaining four days," McCarley said of Rose. "Mike treated all of us and never once treated himself. Not until he got back to our base camp."

The damage Rose sustained from the shrapnel created by the RPG stayed with him until well after he left Vietnam, he said.

"When that thing went off, I got peppered from the back of my head all the way down to about halfway down my calves. For a year after I got back from Vietnam, I'd get boils on my back," Rose said, adding that his wife Margaret would offer assistance. "She would pop them and pull a piece of bamboo or metal out."

Rose said that night there was no rest for the Soldiers and Montagnard fighters who were part of Operation Tailwind. Fighting had continued and at night, Air Force-operated AC-130H "Spectre" gunships laid down fire around them.

"We weren't getting much sleep," Rose recalled. "And we weren't eating, but we had water."

Also possibly keeping Rose awake were thoughts about the bodies of the two Montagnard fighters who had been killed. Rose had wanted to take them with him. But ultimately, it proved not possible.

"We just couldn't carry them," Rose said. "I knew the casualties were going to mount."

Choosing to not take those fighters along, Rose said, was a decision he has regretted for the rest of his life.

SAVING LIVES

On the ground in Laos, Rose's role as a combat medic, he said, was not to fix wounded Soldiers. It was only to keep them alive long enough to get them to a hospital.

"Your job is not to repair," he said. "Your job is to ensure the person survives to be put on a helicopter so they can get to a facility that has proper skilled physicians and nurses that can begin to repair the damage done. Your job, as a medic, is to maintain the person's life. That is, to keep them out of shock, to stop the bleeding, and also as much as possible prevent infection if you could."

McCarley estimates that Rose laid hands on and provided medical assistance to more than half of the 130 or so U.S. Soldiers and Montagnards who were involved in Operation Tailwind -- saving lives each time.

"He treated probably 70 wounded," McCarley said. "He definitely saved the lives of two individuals that I know of personally. The entire operation, Mike never slept or ate or rested. There were at least three or four occasions were we had a wounded man out in the area, away from the company area, and Mike went out and carried the wounded, and treated them on the spot, despite being fired upon the whole time.

"He carried the men back on his shoulders," McCarley said. "With one of the men, the fire was real intense and Mike shielded the wounded man with his own body while he was treating him."

Rose said that taking care of Soldiers on the battlefield includes more than just the mechanical aspects of applying the medical care he had learned at Fort Bragg.

"You have got to talk to the person," Rose said. "You have got to convince them they are fine. You distract their minds by talking about other things. Even in the chaos of battle, that's one of the things you have got to do is make sure that person, who knows they are badly hurt, has got a mental state that they are convinced they are going to be okay as soon as we get them back. You let them know we're going to get you out of here, we're going to get you back to the hospital, and you're going to be fine. And you're going home."

Ideally, Rose said, injured Soldiers get evacuated. But that was a problem in Laos.

"Every time you tried to get a helicopter in, they shot at it, or it got shot down, or it took so much ground fire that the pilots couldn't get in," Rose said. It proved tough, he said, to get the wounded out of the fight. So instead, the wounded had to come along.

Some injured would be able to come along with help from Rose's dwindling supply of morphine. Rose had morphine syrettes available to him -- tiny tubes of morphine with a needle already attached.

"You pull the cover off and you push the pin down, pull it out, and that breaks the hole in the bag, and then you squeeze it," he said. They look like tiny tubes of toothpaste, he said.

Rose said in the field environment, Soldiers don't get nearly as much morphine as they would get in the hospital.

"You only want to give them enough morphine to take the edge off the discomfort," he said. "It's not like a hospital where the doctor and the nurse are trying to make you comfortable. I'm not trying to make you comfortable. I'm trying to take the pain away just enough where you are not going to be screaming or moving around or jerking."

Rose said he wanted to make some of the injured Soldiers comfortable enough so they could walk, and travel with the unit under their own power.

"I'd dope them up enough where they could take the pain and I'd tie their hand to the guy's ruck in front of them and he's going to walk behind the guy in front of him," Rose said. The alternative, he said, would be that those men would have to be carried. And that, he decided, was not acceptable.

"I'd have to pull people off the line to help me carry the ones that couldn't walk," he said. "And that would reduce the perimeter strength, which would probably increase the casualty rate."

For those Soldiers who absolutely couldn't move on their own, even with the help of some morphine, Rose devised his own field-crafted solution.

"I strapped them to a bamboo pole with a poncho hung there, and put rappelling ropes underneath them," he said. "We cut poles long enough for people to carry one guy on each end, to carry the wounded."

FIRST TRY TO GET HOME


On the fourth day in Laos, four Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters arrived to extract the Soldiers who were participating in Operation Tailwind.

At the landing zone, where the participants of Operation Tailwind awaited extraction, there was intense enemy fire.

"About 1,000 or maybe 1,800 were charging us," Rose recalls.

The Air Force came in and laid down riot control, or CS gas, to disable enemy forces and give friendly forces an edge.

"CS will make your eyes water shut," Rose said. "What can you do if your eyes are shut, with a weapon? Not much. And the care and treatment for CS is fresh air. So fresh air and maybe water in the eyes. So that stopped the charge."

Still, Rose said, the company was still taking a lot of enemy fire.

It took only three of the four helicopters to pick up everybody, Rose said. The first of those helicopters was packed.

"The first helicopter came in and we got the wounded on. I'm hesitant about saying 'the panic.' But the Montagnards were itching to get out of there. And I can't blame them," he said. "That helicopter probably took off with probably more people on it than it was designed to take."

More Soldiers and Montagnards boarded the second helicopter, leaving just 35 Operation Tailwind participants, including Rose, to board the third aircraft.

"We were fighting. And they were loading on. And I'm out there with the perimeter. I remember one of the Montagnards went down in front of me. I'd given my weapon, and I'd given most of my magazine at that point to some other people. And I went forward and picked up that Montagnard," Rose said. "Lt. Langdon fired my weapon and he ran out of ammo. So Lt. Langdon reached down and grabbed the web gear of the Montagnard with me. And he and I pulled him up onto the helicopter."

The helicopter Rose boarded for extraction was piloted by then-1st. Lt. Don Persky, a Marine Corps officer. Persky said that the extraction might have been doomed from the get-go.

"I was the third helicopter going in," Persky said. "There was going to be a fourth helicopter behind me. And we started taking such intense fire that I asked them to get everybody on board my aircraft, because I didn't see any possible way of getting another helicopter in there."

Persky said the remaining 35 got on board, but his aircraft took a lot of enemy fire in the process.

"Just as I was pulling out of the zone, I had an engine that was shot out -- it failed -- so we took off single-engine, and we barely made it out," Persky said.

By the time it lifted off, Persky said, his aircraft was leaking fuel and hydraulic fluid, and operating with just one engine.

Aboard the damaged helicopter, Rose said, he sat down next to his buddy, Sergeant Bright. The two sat together on the tailgate of the aircraft and talked. Then, Rose said, "the helicopter went dead silent."

The aircraft had been operating with just one engine. Now it had none.

"Bernie says, or I said, one of the two of us said, 'We're going to crash,'" Rose said. "And the other said 'Yeah, I guess we are.' And we were just holding each other and watching the ground come up."

Persky explained that when both engines go out on a helicopter, there will be time to land the aircraft safely. "It doesn't fall out of the sky like a brick," he said.

Instead, Persky said, a skilled pilot will "auto-rotate" the helicopter safely to the ground, in most circumstances. It's something he said helicopter pilots are trained on. It meant there would be a few minutes between the time when the engines quit and the aircraft hit the ground.

Rose said he remembered, after the second engine on the helicopter fell silent, that he was called away to tend to another wounded service member. A Marine door-gunner aboard the aircraft had been shot through the neck and needed medical attention.

Persky said he remembers too when Rose saved that Marine, not by seeing it with his own eyes, but by hearing it.

Around the landing zone, the Air Force had used CS gas to disable enemy troops. Because of that, the aircraft crews had been wearing gas masks. Those masks necessitated that everyone onboard was on a "hot mic" that day, Persky said.

Aircrew would typically hold down a button to initiate conversation with other crew members over the aircraft intercom. But with a hot mic, everyone heard everyone else all the time, Persky said.

"You get a staticky sound on the intercom, and if anybody is talking at any time, or if anybody is breathing, you hear them breath," Persky said.

What Persky and other crew members were hearing that day over the hot mic, he said, were the sounds of that young Marine choking to death on his own blood.

"When we pulled out of this zone, all hell was breaking loose," Persky said. "We had numerous bullet holes, we were leaking fuel, we were leaking hydraulic fluid. And my right door gunner, Lance Corporal Stevens, took a round through his neck. And from the time we started pulling out of the zone -- it's kind of gross -- but he was gurgling. I'm sure it was blood mixed with trying to breathe. And breathing, and making really horrific sounds. And this was over all of our communications."

About then, Rose came to the Marine's aid.

"He was bleeding pretty bad," Rose said. "And as I recall, he was sitting up against the hull. At that point in time I needed to make sure he was breathing. But with the damage to his neck, I was concerned for him drowning on his own blood. So I got him on all fours, in a crawl position, so that he wouldn't aspirate on his own blood."

Rose said the young Marine was "lucky" in that nothing vital, such as the carotid artery, had been damaged. He felt confident the young man would live, and he told him so. But still, he was not in good shape, Rose said.

"This whole area was chewed," Rose said, gesturing to his own neck. "Like somebody had taken an egg beater with sharp blades and just ... but the carotid, the veins were okay."

Rose said he took material from another service member, something like a bandana, and used it to wrap the Marine's neck.

"Mike went up there and pulled Stevens out and pulled the mask off him and stopped the sound from the hot mic," Persky said. "He patched him up and got him calmed down. I didn't witness these things firsthand, but I certainly was a recipient of that effort. Thank God for Mike, because he got him off the hot mic. It was a pretty big deal."

AFTERMATH

It wasn't long after tending to the wounded Marine that Rose found himself back on the ground sitting next to the Marine he had just tended to.

The helicopter had crash-landed back in the jungle of Laos, and Rose had been thrown from the aircraft as a result.

"I remember sitting on a bank in Laos, watching this big bright silvery thing coming at me," Rose said.

The very helicopter from which he'd been thrown, which had crash-landed, was still in motion. It lurched toward him on one final roll or slide before settling onto the jungle floor, just a few yards from where he had landed.

"The next thought I guess I must have had was, I need to get on there to get these guys out," Rose said. "There were people probably hurt. At that point I didn't know how badly anybody was hurt. Aircraft can create some awful messes with people, depending on how badly the aircraft comes apart when it hits the ground."

Rose said he didn't remember how he got back inside the helicopter -- either through a legitimate hatch or door, or through a gash or hole that was torn into the side as a result of the crash. But he knew he needed to get in there quick. Not just because there were people inside that were hurt and needed to be tended to, but also because the helicopter itself, leaking fuel and other flammable fluids, might ignite with all those service members inside.

"He went back into the helicopter and ... there were a couple of pilots that were injured," McCarley said. "He got one of them out. He got the wounded Americans and the wounded Montagnards. He was probably responsible for getting 15 or 20 people that were in a dazed condition."

McCarley said he doesn't remember how he got out of the helicopter. But once he realized what was going on, he helped Rose pull out the other Soldiers.

"We started hauling the individuals out of the ship," McCarley said. "It was smoking and in danger of blowing up or catching fire at any time. And Mike went in and he passed them out to myself and it's several of the other guys who were helping him unload the guys."

Rose and other teammates did eventually get everybody off the wrecked aircraft: passengers, crew and pilots too.

McCarley had injured himself in the crash when his face smashed against a bulkhead and knocked out a mouthful of his teeth. Nevertheless, Rose said, McCarley went back into the aircraft to secure critical intelligence material that Soldiers with Operation Tailwind had captured during their mission.

"McCarley is tired, exhausted and hurt," Rose recalled. "But he had enough sense to go back in there to look and make sure he had that rucksack with all the intel. That was gold. We weren't going home without that."

McCarley confirmed that the intel they had gathered during the mission would provide valuable insight into how enemy forces were using the Ho Chi Minh trail.

"It identified a lot of the traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail and it also identified a major transportation battalion that higher intelligence had thought was down south around the Saigon area, but instead they were up in the northern part of Laos," McCarley said. "General Abrams ... said that was about the best intelligence find during the entire war, as far as providing information on the Ho Chi Minh trail."

Rose said he doesn't remember how much longer after the crash happened that the fourth helicopter arrived to take them home. It was more than five minutes, he said, but probably less than 30. And he doesn't remember getting aboard.

"It's really foggy," he said. "Like a dream."

McCarley said that Operation Tailwind, made up of both American Soldiers and Montagnard fighters, had been successful.

"Not only did we accomplish it, but shortly after the operation, the friendly forces drove the communist troops off the plateau," McCarley said. "In addition to that, on the last day of the operation we overran a large base camp. And we got several footlockers of intelligence."

Years later, Rose said, he learned that his missions into Laos actually kept as many as 50,000 North Vietnamese Army troops "off balance" along the Ho Chi Minh trail. He believes that if not for the efforts if his and other MACSOG units, more NVA troops might have made it to the fight in South Vietnam, and that might have meant more American deaths.

"There are 58,000 names on [the Vietnam Memorial Wall,]" Rose said. "I think that without our efforts in MACSOG, there might have been 100k names on that wall."

All 16 American Soldiers who had gone on the mission came back alive, Rose said, but they were all wounded. Between the 16 Americans, 33 Purple Hearts were awarded. Rose received two of them.

For a medic, getting all those American Soldiers home might have been reason to celebrate. But there weren't just Americans on the mission. There were also Montagnard fighters. Some never made it to the ground due to injuries sustained while flying in. Three others never made it home at all, Rose said.

Two Montagnard fighters were killed the first day in Laos, and the unit was forced to leave them, because taking their bodies along would have endangered the mission. A third Montagnard fighter had been killed underneath the helicopter that crashed. The bodies of all three likely remain in Laos today.

"It's the one thing that haunts me," Rose said. "I don't know those three men's names. I wouldn't recognize them if you showed me a picture. I don't know if they were Buddhist or Catholic. But what bothers me was that we were not able to retrieve them and they couldn't come home for a proper burial. I will regret that until the day I pass out of this world. I've had a good life since Tailwind, but theirs ended there, so long ago. I don't think about it all the time. But when the subject comes up, or September 11 to 14 comes by every year, I think of those three guys."

WHITE HOUSE CEREMONY

On Oct. 23, Rose will travel to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump, who will put the Medal of Honor around his neck. Rose said it's the opportunity of a lifetime for him.

"I am going to have the privilege of being able to meet the president of the United States with my dear wife, in the Oval Office," Rose said. "And that is something I will treasure until the end of my days."

For years, neither the United States, nor the U.S. Army, openly discussed the operations that happened in Laos during the Vietnam War. As a result of that silence, Rose said, many Soldiers who might have been due the Medal of Honor went without the recognition.

Rose said he feels like the medal he'll receive is meant to recognize all those other Soldiers who are today unknown to the rest of America. That's why he's adamant about sharing the medal with them all, about 2,000 other Soldiers, in his estimate, that served in MACSOG between 1965 and 1973.

"That medal, and the presidential unit citation, recognizes, finally, the service of all the men in all those years that served in MACSOG," he said. "It's a collective medal from my perspective. All the courage and honor and dedication to duty of those men who served. They went for 30 years not even being acknowledged."

After his tour in Vietnam, Rose opted to pursue a commission in the Army. His career took him to, among other places, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Panama. Also during his Army career, he met and married his wife, Margaret. The two have been together for over 45 years now. Rose served 20 years in the Army, and retired in 1987, as a captain.

His wife will accompany him to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor. And while his parents have long since passed, Rose said, he thinks they'd be proud of what he's done.

His father, he said, "would have been proud to see me make staff sergeant, because he was a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps. And I think he would have been really pleased."    


blog comments powered by Disqus

FSM Archives

10 year FSM Anniversary

More in Politics ( 1 OF 25 ARTICLES )