President Trump bestows the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose, during a ceremony in the White House on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump presented the Medal of Honor on Monday to Capt. Gary Michael Rose, a Vietnam War medic who repeatedly risked his life and exposed himself to enemy fire to ensure the safe return of dozens of fellow soldiers during a bloody four-day mission in Laos.

“You’ve earned the eternal gratitude of the entire American nation,” Trump said at the ceremony. “You faced down the evils of communism, you defended our flag and you showed the world the unbreakable resolve of the American Armed Forces.”

 Trump lauded Rose, 70 — the son of a metalworker and a World War II veteran — for heroics that have “gone untold.” Recounting the perilous mission that nearly claimed Rose’s life multiple times, Trump spoke of the veteran’s military bravery and personal contributions later in life, from his hours at a local soup kitchen to his time fixing broken appliances for elderly and disabled neighbors. At times, the president spoke directly to Rose’s young grandchildren, who were in attendance.

“You are about to witness your grandpa receive our nation’s highest military honor,” Trump said. “And America is about to witness Capt. Gary Michael Rose recognized as the true American hero that he is.”

In 1967, at the age of 19, Rose joined the U.S. Army and became a Special Forces medic. In his second combat mission, Rose set out on Sept. 11, 1970, on what Trump described as a “harrowing four-day mission” with American, Vietnamese and paramilitary Montagnard personnel into enemy-controlled territory in Laos for Operation Tailwind.

The group soon met enemy fire, leaving two Americans and two Montagnards wounded. Rose, who was the only medic among 136 men, rushed to rescue one of the wounded and carried him back to the company through heavy gunfire.

On the mission’s second day, he ran and then crawled 40 to 50 meters outside his company’s area to save one of the Montagnard fighters, dragging the wounded soldier back to the company with one hand, firing his weapon from the other.

On his way back to his company, a rocket-propelled grenade landed near Rose, sending shrapnel through Rose’s back, leg and foot. Rose ignored his own wounds, and using a stick as a crutch, focused instead on the other wounded fighter as they made their way back to the rest of the company.

When a medevac helicopter was called, Rose stood fully exposed to enemy fire as he tried to pass the wounded up to the helicopter crew overhead. But the incoming gunfire was so heavy that the medevac pilot aborted the mission, and the helicopter was so damaged that it crashed only a few miles away.

“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,” Trump said.

On the mission’s final night, Rose dug trenches for the wounded so he could tend to their injuries, continuing to expose himself to gunfire as he moved from soldier to soldier.

As night turned into day, the personnel were told to move to an extraction point where they would be met by helicopter, despite the fact that the North Vietnamese Army was closing in fast. Rose was the last to board, but the aircraft soon took on fire and a Marine door gunner was shot through the neck. The helicopter crashed only kilometers from the original extraction point.

Thrown from the helicopter, Rose crawled back toward the wreckage to pull out the wounded and unconscious, fearing that the aircraft — smoking and leaking fuel — could explode. He continued treating the injured until another helicopter arrived at the scene of the crash.

Scores of the men in the company were wounded over those four days, but only three died, with Rose alone credited with treating as many as 70 wounded fighters. Upon his return to base, Rose refused treatment until all of the other men in his company were seen to first.

“I was raised in an environment that if you agreed to do something, basically on a handshake, you have an obligation to do it, because you said you’d do it,” Rose said in a video on the U.S. Army website recounting Operation Tailwind. “Not only the obligation to do it, but to do it the best that you know how, or can possibly do.”

At Monday’s ceremony, Trump said Rose went on to become an officer in the Army, serving for over 20 years. He added that Rose never knew for sure what happened to the Marine gunner shot in the neck from the doomed helicopter until earlier this year. The Marine “endured a painful and difficult recovery” but “lived a long and very full life before passing away in 2012,” Trump said.

It was the second time Trump has awarded the Medal of Honor, with the first honoring James McCloughan, now a retired Michigan teacher who repeatedly risked his life to save 10 fellow soldiers during two days of terror in Vietnam.

In his remarks on Monday, Trump welcomed Rose’s “brothers-in-arms” who also fought in Operation Tailwind, as well as airmen and Marines who provided support throughout the mission.

“As Mike put it, ‘If it wasn’t for those aircrews, all of us would still be in Laos,'” Trump said before naming 10 members of Rose’s unit who attended the ceremony. Following his remarks on Monday, Trump presented Rose with his medal then placed his hands on the back of Rose’s shoulders. 

After a brief handshake, Rose, facing Trump, gave a salute.

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