By Kari Hawkins, AMCMay 2, 2019
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- On a breezy and sunny spring day, the names of two of the nation's most honored Vietnam veterans were memorialized during a Medal of Honor Wall Rededication Ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville as the local veteran's community and Redstone Arsenal representatives showed their respect and appreciation.
Retired Lt. Col. James "Mike" Sprayberry and retired Capt. Gary "Mike" Rose were present as a new Medal of Honor Wall was unveiled, showing their names added in chronological order according to their military citations. Their names are now among six Medal of Honor recipients from Madison County. Sprayberry and Rose are Madison County's only living Medal of Honor recipients.
"This memorial is a symbol of what a community does for its veterans when it truly honors their legacy," said Redstone Arsenal senior commander Lt. Gen. Ed Daly as he spoke to about 200 attendees at the April 30 ceremony.
"It is a symbol of those who stand on freedom's frontier personifying the values and liberties of the United States of America. At first glance, this monument represents the finest and strongest and most resilient military in the world. But, as you look closer, you see the names of those etched in its surface and you realize it took the sacrifice, courage and duty of many with their own hopes and dreams to build a monument that stands for freedom for all."
The date of the rededication ceremony was significant because it was also the 44th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, which officially ended April 30, 1975. The ceremony was hosted by the Madison County Military Heritage Commission with assistance from the Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Memorial Foundation.
The Veterans Memorial was officially opened on Nov. 11, 2011. Each of the nation's wars are listed on its walls, with the names of 366 warriors from Madison County who died in those conflicts also etched in the stone. There are 56 names etched under the Vietnam War, with two of those listed as Missing in Action.
The objectives of the memorial, said retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Foundation, are to "inspire visitors and instill a sense of pride and respect for all veterans who have served; to provide an incentive to visitors to serve their country; to recognize those veterans of Madison County, by name who gave their lives in military service; to educate visitors, especially the young, of the sacrifices those before them have made to guarantee a free America; and to recognize the Madison County recipients of the Medal of Honor."
The names of Sprayberry and Rose join four other Medal of Honor recipients on the Medal of Honor Wall that is set up high in the middle of the memorial. The other names are: Pvt. Richard Taylor, Union Army, Battle of Cedar Creek, Middletown, Va., November 1864; 1st Lt. Cecil Bolton, 104th Infantry Division, Battle at the Mark River, Holland, November 1944; Master Sgt. Paul Bolden, 30th Infantry Division, Battle at Petit-Coo, Belgium, December 1944; and Col. Leo Thorsness, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, North Vietnam, April 1967, who was also a Prisoner of War.
"In America, we erect monuments to warriors, not to wars, and etched into this particular monument are the words that represent the best qualities of our nation's finest warriors: sacrifice, courage and duty," Daly said.
"These virtues are as timeless as they are transcendent. As Medal of Honor recipients, Capt. Rose and Col. Sprayberry epitomize Army values, and especially sacrifice, courage and duty. They are the absolute heroes who represent the Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the past, present and future."
Sprayberry, who moved from Coosa County to Madison County a few years ago, received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on April 25, 1968, when, as a 1st lieutenant, he led a patrol that rescued men from Company D, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, who had been wounded and cut off from the rest of their company. In the course of the rescue mission, Sprayberry personally destroyed several enemy bunkers and machine gun emplacements. He received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon in October 1969.
Rose, who received the Medal of Honor in 2017, was awarded for actions he took as a Special Forces combat medic, 5th Special Forces Group, in September 1970 in Laos at Chavane during Operation Tailwind, in which he treated the wounded while fighting North Vietnamese Army forces. Despite being wounded multiple times during the four-day mission, he treated 60-70 personnel. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but this was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross due to the classified nature of the mission in Laos. The downgrade was rescinded in recent years and he received the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump in October 2017.
While many of the nation's leaders have spoken about sacrifice, Daly said the actions Sprayberry and Rose took in wartime represent the true meaning of the word. What they did "reminds us that what happens on the battlefield isn't for those who are fighting, but for those who will enjoy freedom because of the fighting. It is a story of sacrifice because of the comradery, and their hopes and dreams for the future … As a combat medic, Capt. Rose never stood taller than when he kneeling next to his fallen comrade. Col. Sprayberry never stood taller than when he was leading his fellow comrades out of the enemy's reach."
As part of the Medal of Honor Wall, the names of Sprayberry and Rose are now listed among Madison County heroes who answered the call of duty with courage and sacrifice.
"The Army defines duty as fulfilling one's obligations … But I like to think the word 'duty' is on this monument for an additional purpose, because we, the nation, have an obligation to our veterans," Daly said. "Duty is a two-way street. The duty to serve is reciprocated by a public duty to remember that service and to not allow the legacy of military sacrifice to die."
Daly said the memorial is a representation of the public's "duty to fulfill our promises to our veterans, to those who have sacrificed much for our freedoms and liberties. It is our duty to fulfill our promises to their families. And it is our duty, now and for all time, to remember and honor their sacrifices, and to remember and honor their courage."
The ceremony also included a Vietnam Veteran Remembrance by Madison County Military Heritage Commission member Dr. Hal Winton and a remembrance by MCMHC President Clay Davis of MCMHC past president Bob Marshall, who passed away April 20.