Meet Capt. Gary Rose, Medal of Honor recipient

Last Updated Oct 23, 2017 7:43 PM EDT

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The nation's highest military honor was awarded Monday to retired Army Capt. Gary Michael Rose, who goes by Mike, for extraordinary acts of heroism in a secret war.

President Trump said Rose's love for fellow soldiers and devotion to the country inspires us all.

Rose was a Green Beret medic in 1970 when he and 15 other Americans were sent on a top-secret mission inside Laos, which helps explain why it took so long to award him the Medal of Honor.

"It wasn't what we were doing," Rose said. "It was where we were doing it is really why it was classified."

Laos was officially a neutral country where the U.S. military couldn't go, but the North Vietnamese were using it as a base camp from which to launch attacks into South Vietnam, so the U.S. military went in secret.

All Rose was told was to bring extra medical supplies.

CBS News asked Rose what it told him about the mission.

"It's going to be a tough one, and it proved to be," he said.

Helicopters carried the Americans and a company of about 120 Montagnard tribesmen 50 miles inside Laos.

"We took two casualties going in. And we hit the ground running and it became a running gun battle for the next four days which seemed like one long day," Rose said.

There was one picture that exists from those four days, taken during a rare break in the fighting.

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CBS News

According to the citation, Rose "continuously exposed himself to intense fire as he fearlessly moved from casualty to casualty." He is credited with treating 60-70 wounded.

"If I had done anything less than what I did on those four days, I would have failed myself and the guy on my left and the guy on my right," Rose said.

Rose himself was hit by shrapnel in the foot and showed that the wound was almost a finger-length long.

Rose was on the last chopper out and saved the life of a crewman who had been shot through the neck.

"He was going into shock and I remember leaning down to him and said, 'Listen you stupid son of a bitch, if you're going to die, you'd already be dead.' And he came out of shock," Rose told CBS News.

Three Montagnards were killed on the mission, but all the Americans came out alive. A photo shows them the next day with Rose on crutches. 

Five decades later, Rose accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of all the soldiers who fought in Laos. He could be accepting it on behalf of any soldier who's ever been in a desperate situation.

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CBS News

"You just keep putting one foot in front of the other," Rose said. "That's what you do. I mean, either that or you, you give up. Are you going to give up?  No, you're not going to give up.

Sounds simple, until you try to live -- or die -- by it.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.