Last month, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Veteran of Vietnam Lt. Col. (Ret.) Charles Kettles. The President described then-Major Kettles’ fourth and last flight out of the hot LZ in the jungles of Vietnam in his Huey: “The cabin filled with black smoke as Chuck hopped and skipped the helo across the ground to pick up enough speed for takeoff—like a jackrabbit, he said, bouncing across the riverbed. The instant he got airborne, another mortar ripped into the tail, the Huey fishtailed violently, and a soldier was thrown out of the helicopter, hanging onto a skid as Chuck flew them to safety.”

Stories of the heroics of American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are legion. Some are never fully told. And then there are those stories of heroism that we may never hear about because they took place during secret operations Washington would rather forget about. Sometimes, though, the books are opened and new legends take their place in the fabric of our country’s history.


In “Secrets, Denial, and . . . a Medal of Honor for a Vietnam Medic,” Dave Philipps tells Sgt. Gary Rose’s story, and the story of OPERATION TAILWIND. As Philipps explains, if all goes as expected now that Congress has authorized the Medal of Honor for Rose, Sgt. Rose’s “will be the first Medal of Honor to expressly acknowledge the heroics of a soldier on the ground in the so-called Secret War in Laos.”

OPERATION TAILWIND, as the Department of Defense describes in its review of CNN’s later-retracted allegations of war crimes, “was conducted by 16 [Studies and Observation Group, SOG] members, accompanied by approximately 120 Montagnard troops. These forces were inserted by air into the Southern Laotian panhandle. The dual purposes of the mission were to conduct a reconnaissance-in-force—an offensive operation to contact the enemy—and to create a diversion so that North Vietnamese forces pressuring friendly forces conducting OPERATION GAUNTLET [a Laotian operation encouraged by the CIA] elsewhere in Laos would be drawn away.” Sgt. Rose was one of those 16 troops of the SOG. Philipps writes, “The group operated in Vietnam under the cover story that it was an academic unit evaluating strategy. In fact, its mission was to sow mayhem.”

And so they did. Inevitably, with a kind of humility that seems rarer and rarer these days, the heroes will say, “’I didn’t do anything heroic . . . . I was just doing my job like everyone else.’”

To a certain extent, that’s probably true. The ranks of our military and Veterans are people who have been ready to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their fellow service members, fulfilling a contract of sorts, honoring a bond of trust so strong words fall short of describing it.

Sgt. Gary Rose fulfilled that contract.

. . . there are so many, and they are always amazing.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.