Vietnam War Special Forces Medic Put Up for Medal of Honor
Charles Dickens started his famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with the famous sentence, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
For Green Beret medic, Gary Michael Rose, and the men he fought with in Vietnam back in 1970, this phrase might have a particularly familiar feel to it. Their story is one that encompasses two contrasting tales too; one of uncompromising heroism, the other of media arrogance and character assassination.
The first tale begins in September of 1970. Rose and 15 Green Beret, along with 100 indigenous Montagnard fighters were dropped into the Laotian jungle by CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters to begin a mission to “create havoc” for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
When the helicopters had left them and the deep silence of the jungle enveloped them, they immediately began to hear telephones ringing, of all things. They investigated the sounds and found that they had been inserted almost on top of a command post area that included a string of bunkers stretching over some 500 yards. In the bunkers was a huge cache of rockets. They spent the next few hours wiring the bunkers with explosives. They then lit the fuse and blew the bunkers up. Those bunkers full of rockets burned and continued to explode throughout the night. The NVA had to respond.
Over the next four days, Rose and the Special Forces with their Montagnard allies would find themselves in several firefights with platoon and company sized NVA units. By first light the next day, half of the Green Berets were wounded as were many more of the Montagnards. Rose, too, had been wounded, but kept caring for his men. He was able to keep all of them moving. They were able to keep the NVA at bay, even losing them for periods of time. In the meantime, as they moved through the jungle, they spotted enemy trucks and NVA troops moving in large numbers along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and called in artillery and air strikes. They were indeed, “creating havoc.”
The NVA kept attacking them over the four day period of the mission. Just before night fell on the second day, the Green Berets and Montagnards dug into a defensive position on a hillside. Rose, himself wounded twice already, worked through the night caring for his wounded soldiers with some very creative medical skills. Fellow team members said that when he heard the enemy rockets coming in he would cover the wounded person he was working on with his own body. Later in the mission he was caring for a wounded Montagnard soldier with a squad leader named Keith Placich. A tank round exploded nearby and all of them were hit again with shrapnel. The Montagnard soldier had a wound that opened up his leg right down to the bone. Rose packed it, added maggots, and wrapped the wound with banana leaves. When that Montagnard finally made it back to the hospital, the maggots had multiplied. They had kept the wound clean and the man was able to recover fully from his injury. In an article in the Military Times, Placich said of Rose, “It was emergency medicine on the go.”
Over those four days they had moved some 15 miles through the jungle, fought off multiple NVA attacks, destroyed an enemy command compound, along with its arms cache and damaged many trucks and truly did create havoc along a short span of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They had also seized over 100 lbs. of documents, one of the largest intelligence seizures of the Vietnam War. In the end, every man that went out on that mission came back alive. Rose was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on behalf of his men while still in Vietnam.
The second tale of this story is one of journalistic arrogance. In 1998, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Peter Arnett, wrote a piece for CNN’s program “NewsStand” called, “Valley of Death” in which he alleged that Rose and his fellow Green Berets were essentially war criminals, writing that, “during their mission, [they] destroyed a village, killed women, and children, and dropped deadly sarin gas, a chemical weapon banned under international law.”
These same claims were published in CNN’s partner Time Magazine. The reputations of these men were badly stained by these very serious allegations. Subsequent investigations by both the Pentagon and internal reviews at CNN and Time Magazine proved the allegations to be false. Arnett was fired by CNN as was a Ms. Oliver at the Times. But, as we all know, when allegations like these appear in such prestigious media organizations, they are very hard to be overcome.
Recently, the House and the Senate passed the initial versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a waiver, allowing the White House to award Rose the Medal of Honor. Because these heroic actions took place decades ago, long after the 5 year eligibility period for the Medal of Honor had passed, this waiver was necessary in order for Rose to get what he should have been given.
A now 66-year-old Placich, the squad leader who had gone through these events with Rose, said of him, “He is not a gung-ho person, he is very thoughtful, but he was a hell of a medic and I trusted him with my life. Think of how many people could have put up with that much stress and stay organized and cool and treat all those people.”
Charles Dickens’ character, Sydney Carton, ends “A Tale of Two Cities” saying these words: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…” The phrase could apply to Green Beret medic, Gary Michael Rose.
Rose’s actions back in September of 1970 were far, far better things done for his men, and in service to a larger cause than what journalist Peter Arnett, CNN and Time Magazine did. What he did was for others. What was done to him and his fellow soldiers, both Green Beret and Montagnard, by the media was selfish, insensitive, arrogant and destructive to the reputations of good men.
The Veterans Site wishes to add its respect and thanks to Gary Michael Rose. You honored the highest of ideals of valor in service to your men and to your country. What you did for your fellow soldiers and your Montagnard compatriots humbles us all. Welcome home, good medic and soldier!