HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Unofficially, in the jungles of Laos in 1970, hundreds of North Vietnamese troops closed in on a small team of United States Army commandos. Unofficially, as men were shot down, a medic sprinted through a hail of bullets to help, hefting a man over his shoulder as he fired back with one hand. Unofficially, even when bloodied by a rocket, the medic kept going, not sleeping for days as he cared for 51 wounded soldiers.
Officially, though, American troops were not in Laos. So officially, nothing happened.
The medic, Sgt. Gary Rose, was part of the secret Studies and Observations Group, an elite division of Special Forces. After the assault, the group recommended him for the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. But at the time, President Richard M. Nixon was denying that American troops were even in Laos. The nomination was shelved, an example of what veterans of the group say was a pattern of medals being denied or downgraded to hide their classified exploits.
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