By Devon L. SuitsOctober 25, 2017
WASHINGTON -- Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Gary M. Rose's military service number, RA18846904, was one of the many things on his mind, Oct. 24, as he prepared for his induction into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon.
Given to him by an Army noncommissioned officer back in April 1967, Rose said he remembers the sergeant telling him then "by the time you get off this bus ... that number, beginning with RA, will be embedded in the back of your eyeballs," Rose recalled.
Receiving that military service number, Rose said, is the moment when he transitioned from being "just another kid on the block," to the Soldier and veteran he is today. He said also that he never believed the things he might do as a Soldier would one day warrant him receiving the nation's highest military honor.
But that's exactly what happened.
Rose, who served as a Special Forces medic in the Army, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Laos, Sept. 11 through 14, 1970, as part of Operation Tailwind. President Donald Trump placed the medal around Rose's neck during an Oct. 23 ceremony at the White House.
The day after the ceremony at the White House, Rose attended a second ceremony at the Pentagon, where his name was placed on a wall within the Hall of Heroes there -- alongside the names of every other Medal of Honor recipient. Rose said the recognition for his actions as a Soldier exceeded the expectations he had for what would come of his time in uniform.
"I have always considered it to be a great privilege to be a member of the U.S. Army," Rose said. "To be a part of Special Forces is a privilege. If I walked away at the end of my three to four years with my National Defense Ribbon and Good Conduct Medal, I would have been the proudest young man that could be."
Rose is the 3,500th Medal of Honor recipient, said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville. He is also the 174th Soldier to receive the medal for extraordinary heroism during Vietnam War. Furthermore, the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), the unit to which Rose had been assigned, was the most decorated unit of its size during the Vietnam conflict.
"Today we honor Capt. Mike Rose for his extraordinary valor," McConville said. "By honoring him, we honor the heroes ... that fought by his side. And [we honor] those that sacrificed for this nation. The Green Berets, and every Soldier, Marine, and Airman that was there, that raised their hand to defend the Constitution and all that it stands for."
In attendance during the Hall of Heroes ceremony were Rose's wife, Margaret, and their children, Michael, Cynthia, and Sarah, along with grandchildren. Additionally, some of his battle buddies from Operation Tailwind, and others from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam -- Studies and Observations Group, or MACV-SOG, were present at the ceremony.
"It's no surprise that Mike considers his Medal of Honor to be an award for all of his comrades in MACV-SOG," said Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy.
"There's no way of knowing exactly how many American lives Mike Rose and his comrades saved during Operation Tailwind, which tied down and disrupted thousands of North Vietnamese troops," McCarthy said. "But we do know that Mike personally saved many lives over the course of those four days. It is a fact that there are veterans whose names are not inscribed on a black stone wall just across the Potomac because of Capt. Rose."
The son of a Vietnam veteran, McCarthy reflected on how servicemembers returning from that conflict had been "unfairly tarred and libeled with false accusations, [and] misunderstood, overlooked and forgotten by too many of their fellow Americans."
"This Medal of Honor is a long-overdue vindication of both Rose and the quiet professionals who served in MACV-SOG and similar units," McCarthy said.
"America is looking you straight in the eyes at long last and finally saying: Thank you. You were right. You served bravely, and well. You stood by each other, both during the war and in the decades since. And although you are too humble to say it of yourselves, you are heroes."
Rose's honor comes at a critical moment, as the Defense Department recently observed the 50th anniversary of the start Vietnam War, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who spoke on behalf of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
"Capt. Rose, you came to the aid of your brothers in arms," Shanahan said. "Forty-seven years ago, you preserved their lives. Today, you preserved their legacy. You give us a chance to remind our country of the sacrifices and heroism of the whole Vietnam generation, just when we need that reminder the most."
Having grown up in Southern California, Rose said he had humble beginnings. His teachers, he recalled, instilled in him a love of reading and the English language. And a neighbor, a veteran who had fought in France during World War I, would help develop in Rose an affinity for American history, including the great conflicts the United States had played a part in.
"The more I read [about] and talk to people who participated in places like Guadalcanal, Mundy, Tarawa, and Normandy," Rose said, the more he considers those people to be heroes. "At least they were my heroes."
These influences, combined with knowledge of his own father's service with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, are part of what inspired Rose to join the Army in April 1967.
During his 20-year Army career, Rose served in Thailand, Vietnam and Panama. And while he initially enlisted in the Army, he later sought greater leadership opportunity, and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in December 1973. He retired from the Army as a captain in May 1987.
"[Rose's] service offers us powerful lessons," Shanahan said. "[The Medal of Honor] represents the ideals we try to inspire in America's warriors: courage, selflessness, love for country and each other. These are virtues upon which our whole enterprise rests. Without them, nothing else matters. Not our gear, gadgets, bombs or budgets.
"The Medal of Honor is a marker of courage -- our most precious national resource," he added. "Capt. Rose takes his place in the Hall of Heroes, where his name will become one star in a great consolation of courage. By those stars, we chart our course on land, sea, and air. They burn brightest when the night is darkest."