3:27 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Chaplain Hurley. Vice President Pence, Secretary Shulkin, members of Congress, members of the Armed Forces, and distinguished guests, please join me in welcoming Captain Gary Michael Rose to the White House. (Applause.)
For many years, the story of Mike’s heroism has gone untold. But today we gather to tell the world of his valor and proudly present him with our nation’s highest military honor.
Joining Mike today is his wife, Margaret, their three children, Sarah, Claire, and Michael, and their two grandchildren, Kaitlyn and Christian. Kaitlyn and Christian, I want you to know that the medal that we will present today will forever enshrine your grandfather — and he is a good man. We just spoke to him for a long time, and you are great, great young people. But this will enshrine him into the history of our nation.
We’re also grateful to be joined by nine previous Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Their courage, character, and conviction is beyond measure. Please stand. (Applause.) We are honored to be in their presence.
This afternoon, I want to take a few moments to share with you the incredible story of Mike’s heroic deeds.
Raised in Watertown, New York, Mike’s father was a metalworker and a World War II veteran. He taught his son that we live in the greatest country in the world, and that we must love it, cherish it, and always defend it.
Mike took that very much to heart. After his first year in college, he enlisted in the Army, and by the time he was 22, Mike was a medic for the Fifth Special Forces Group in the Vietnam War.
On September 11, 1970, Mike was called on his second combat mission. He was the only medic for 136 men who embarked on one of the group’s biggest missions of the war: Operation Tailwind.
Their goal was to prevent the North Vietnamese from funneling weapons along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to use against our American troops. Helicopters dropped the unit into Laos. Before they even touched the ground, enemy fire struck three men.
Once they landed in the clearing, they rushed to the jungle for much needed cover. Soon, another man was shot outside their defensive perimeter. Mike immediately rushed to his injured comrade, firing at the enemy as he ran. In the middle of the clearing, under the machine gun fire, Mike treated the wounded soldier. He shielded the man with his own body and carried him back to safety.
But this was just the beginning of Mike’s harrowing four-day mission. Mike and his unit slashed through the dense jungle, dodged bullets, dodged explosives, dodged everything that you can dodge because they threw it all at him, and continuously returned fire as they moved deeper and deeper and deeper into enemy territory.
Throughout the engagement, Mike rescued those in distress without any thought for his own safety. I will tell you, the people with him could not believe what they were witnessing. He crawled from one soldier to the next, offering words of encouragement as he tended to their wounds.
On the second day, one of the allied soldiers was shot outside their company perimeter. Again, Mike raced to the side of the soldier, exposing himself to constant fire. As bullets flew in every direction, Mike fired at the enemy with one arm while dragging the injured soldier back to the perimeter with the other.
Soon after they returned to their unit, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby and shot smoldering metal into Mike’s back and into his leg. He was seriously, seriously wounded. The shrapnel left a gaping hole in Mike’s foot. For the next 48 excruciating hours, he used a branch as a crutch and went on rescuing the wounded. Mike did not stop to eat, to sleep, or even to care for his own serious injury as he saved the lives of his fellow soldiers.
On the second and final night of the mission, the enemy surrounded the company. All night long, Mike treated the wound and dug trenches to protect them from blazing rockets and grenades. After four days of constant engagement with the enemy, and after successfully destroying an enemy base camp, Mike’s unit prepared to evacuate.
When the helicopters arrived, Mike fought back the enemy as his fellow soldiers boarded the aircraft. He boarded the last chopper, limping up to the craft while still warding off the enemy forces that were fast approaching.
As Mike puts it, “If you don’t believe in God, then you should have been with us that day. And I can tell you, it’ll make a believer out of you because we should not [ever] have survived.” Mike, today, we have a room full of people and a nation who thank God that you lived. (Applause.)
Mike’s story doesn’t end there. Soon after the helicopter lifted off the ground, the chopper was hit by enemy fire. Mike, this is serious stuff. (Laughter.) This was not a good four days. (Laughter.)
The bullets tragically struck a young Marine gunner in the throat. Again, Mike rushed to help. As he wrapped a cloth around the Marine’s neck, the engine of the helicopter failed, and the aircraft crashed less than a mile from where it had taken off. Mike was thrown off the aircraft before it hit the ground, but he raced back to the crash site and pulled one man after another out of the smoking and smoldering helicopter as it spewed jet fuel from its ruptured tanks.
Finally, another helicopter rescued them, and by the time they reached the base, Mike was covered in blood. He refused treatment until all of his men had been cared for first.
In every action during those four days, Mike valiantly fought for the life of his comrades, even if it meant the end of his own life.
Mike, you will — I mean, I have to say, you really — your will to endure, your love for your fellow soldier, your devotion to your country inspires us all. 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.
Mike never knew for certain whether or not that Marine gunner who was shot on the helicopter survived until earlier this year, when Mike learned that the Marine had endured a painful and difficult recovery, but that he had made it and lived a long and very full life before passing away in 2012. As Mike said, “That in itself made it all worth it.”
That Marine was one of many men Mike saved. Throughout those four days, Mike treated an astounding 60 to 70 men. Their company disrupted the enemy’s continual resupply of weapons, saving countless of additional American lives.
Today, we are joined by many of Mike’s brothers-in-arms who fought alongside him in Operation Tailwind, along with brave airmen and Marines who provided critical support throughout the mission. As Mike put it, “If it wasn’t for those air crews, all of us would still be in Laos.”
Among those here today are 10 members of Mike’s unit. Please stand up as I call your name: Sergeant Major Morris Adair, Sergeant Don Boudreau, First Sergeant Bernie Bright, Captain Pete Landon, Sergeant Jim Lucas, Lieutenant Colonel Gene McCarley, First Sergeant Denver Minton, Sergeant Keith Plancich, Specialist Five Craig Schmidt, and Staff Sergeant Dave Young.
Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
To Mike and all the servicemembers who fought in the battle: You’ve earned the eternal gratitude of the entire American nation. You faced down the evils of communism, you defended our flag, and you showed the world the unbreakable resolve of the American Armed Forces. Thank you. And thank you very much.
After serving in Operation Tailwind, Mike went on to become an officer in the Army and served for over 20 years.
Now Mike and his wife, Margaret — Margaret, stand up, Margaret. (Applause.) I met Margaret. Margaret is lovely — reside in a fantastic place, where I just left — Huntsville, Alabama — where he lives by a core conviction: You serve your country by fixing your block or fixing your neighborhood.
Mike volunteers with the American Legion, the Knights of Columbus, and many other organizations. He volunteers at a local soup kitchen, fixes broken appliances for elderly and disabled neighbors, donates his hair for those suffering from cancer, makes lunches for children in need, and organizes community gatherings to bring people closer together — which is something we need all over the world and certainly in our country.
He’s a loyal friend to his fellow servicemembers, many of whom are, in addition, here today. And every Wednesday, Kaitlyn and Christian come over for homework night with grandpa and grandma.
I think Kaitlyn and Christian will agree — and I just met them. You have to stand up. Come on, Christian. Come on. Kaitlyn. (Applause.) But I think that Kaitlyn and Christian will agree this fieldtrip is their best homework assignment yet. Right? What do you think, Christian? (Laughter.) Yes? He said yes.
I’m told that recently Christian asked his grandfather, “What exactly is the Congressional Medal of Honor?” That is a wonderful question, Christian. It’s the award given to America’s bravest heroes who earn our freedom with their sacrifice. Those who receive the Medal of Honor went above and beyond the call of duty to protect their fellow servicemembers and defend our nation.
Kaitlyn and Christian, you are about to witness your grandpa receive our nation’s highest military honor, and America is about to witness Captain Gary Michael Rose recognized as the true American hero that he is: a patriot who never gives up, never gives in, and always stands strong for God, for family, and for country.
Mike, we honor you, we thank you, we salute you, and with hearts full of admiration and pride, we present you with the Congressional Medal of Honor.
And now I would like the military aide to come forward and read the citation.
Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America, authorized for by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded, in the name of Congress, The Medal of Honor, to Sgt. Gary M. Rose, United States Army for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Sergeant Gary M. Rose distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity while serving as a Special Forces Medic with a company-sized exploitation force, Special Operations Augmentation, Command and Control Central, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Republic of Vietnam.
Between 11 and 14 September 1970, Sergeant Rose’s company was continuously engaged by a well-armed and numerically superior hostile force deep in enemy-controlled territory. Enemy B-40 rockets and mortar rounds rained down while the adversary sprayed the area with small arms and machine gun fire, wounding many and forcing everyone to seek cover.
Sergeant Rose, braving the hail of bullets, sprinted fifty meters to a wounded soldier’s side. He then used his own body to protect the casualty from further injury while treating his wounds. After stabilizing the casualty, Sergeant Rose carried him through the bullet-ridden combat zone to protective cover.
As the enemy accelerated the attack, Sergeant Rose continuously exposed himself to intense fire as he fearlessly moved from casualty to casualty, administering life-saving aid.
A B-40 rocket impacted just meters from Sergeant Rose, knocking him from his feet and injuring his head, hand, and foot. Ignoring his wounds, Sergeant Rose struggled to his feet and continued to render aid to the other injured soldiers.
During an attempted medevac, Sergeant Rose again exposed himself to enemy fire as he attempted to hoist wounded personnel up to the hovering helicopter, which was unable to land due to unsuitable terrain.
The medevac mission was aborted due to intense enemy fire and the helicopter crashed a few miles away due to the enemy fire sustained during the attempted extraction.
Over the next two days, Sergeant Rose continued to expose himself to enemy fire in order to treat the wounded, estimated to be half of the company’s personnel. On September 14, during the company’s eventual helicopter extraction, the enemy launched a full-scale offensive.
Sergeant Rose, after loading wounded personnel on the first set of extraction helicopters, returned to the outer perimeter under enemy fire, carrying friendly casualties and moving wounded personnel to more secure positions until they could be evacuated.
He then returned to the perimeter to help repel the enemy under [until] the final extraction helicopter arrived. As the final helicopter was loaded, the enemy began to overrun the company’s position, and the helicopter’s Marine door gunner was shot in the neck.
Sergeant Rose instantly administered critical medical treatment onboard the helicopter, saving the Marine’s life. The helicopter carrying Sergeant Rose crashed several hundred meters from the extraction point, further injuring Sergeant Rose and the personnel on board.
Despite his numerous wounds from the past three days, Sergeant Rose continued to pull and carry unconscious and wounded personnel out of the burning wreckage and continued to administer aid to the wounded until another extraction helicopter arrived.
Sergeant Rose’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were critical to saving numerous lives over that four-day time period. His actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st Special Forces, and the United States Army.
(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)
(A prayer is given.) (Applause.)
END 3:47 P.M. EDT