'Why did he do such a crazy thing?': Perham man who nearly died in Vietnam learns firsthand about sacrifice
A part of Bill Rose is looking forward to the next life having caught a glimpse of it in 1968 when he was a soldier in Vietnam.
Rose was badly wounded when he had an out-of-body experience that he has never had much success explaining to others. A sensation of warmth and well-being engulfed him until a voice from somewhere told him "you have to go back."
Rose remembers that he did not want to go back because he was in such pain but he did go back.
It was at that point the wounded soldier knew in his mind and heart he was going to live.
"Trying to describe this is like trying to describe the color red to someone who has never seen the color red," Rose said.
A half-century ago the Perham doctor who has Lakeland Veterinary Clinic on County Highway 8, was a skinny teenager without a cent when he decided to join the United States Marine Corps. After 13 weeks of basic training, he was assigned to the Ninth Marine Division, also known as "The Walking Dead," and was sent to Vietnam to fight in that long and bloody jungle war.
Combat missions for "bush rats" like Rose and his unit involved going in search of the enemy or enemy installations. The enemy was often located in the heavy jungle when U.S. infantry forces were attacked by them.
"I always kind of felt that we were bait because we would go out and when we got hit we would call in artillery or whatever," Rose said. "We destroyed a lot of ammo bunkers and supplies."
During one combat action, as he huddled in a foxhole and watched the enemy attempt to bring down a U.S. helicopter, Rose found himself hit by a mortar round which had missed the chopper.
Rose was set for evacuation, but the firefight was so intense the chopper he was placed in was shot down twice before it miraculously escaped the combat zone on its third attempt.
"The third time he took off he got it off the side of the hill and when we got hit we just kept falling down and falling down and eventually we got enough air under those rotor blades that we just took off,:" Rose said. "If the hill hadn't been so high we wouldn't have made it."
The medical unit he was sent to placed a green tag on him when he arrived. In medical terms, it was a sign to other doctors and nurses that he was wounded so badly the chances of saving him were very slim, and it placed him on the bottom of the list for medical treatment. Other soldiers were pushed ahead of him into surgery.
When a man attached to Rose's unit happened to notice him in the group wearing green tags he told a doctor he knew Rose and wanted to try and save him. The man was only a corpsman, not a surgeon, but when a doctor gave him permission to try he got to work. With the help of another corpsman, he turned Rose's longshot for life into a life that is approaching seven decades.
Rose is now 69, and his days of soldiering in the Vietnam War are far behind him. But Rose retains a keen interest in the Marine Corps and the values they embrace. Family ties to the Corps is a big reason. He has had sons serve in the Marine Corps. His brother, Paul, was a Marine Corps drill instructor until dying of a heart attack at the age of 31.
When Rose once asked his brother how he turned civilians into Marines he got an answer he has always cherished: "You have to teach them that the most important person in the world is the one standing next to them," Rose was told.
That belief is the biggest reason Rose is alive today.
In speaking with a pilot once many years after his Vietnam experience, Rose could not help but wonder what the pilot who had saved his life in Vietnam, had been thinking when he had flown into the middle of a firefight.
"Why did he do such a crazy thing?" Rose asked.
"Because you were there," the pilot said.
Call it courage, call it duty, call it service—Rose is alive because that chopper landed under fire and evacuated the wounded.
"It is not just military service," Rose said. "That's service. If your neighbor is more important than you are, you will help him through this....if people could just look at the other person as being more important."
Rose is proud of all the military branches of the United States. He based his decision to join the Corps in 1967 on a belief he held.
"My reason for joining the Marine Corps was that I knew they were the best trained," Rose said.
Rose understands that Memorial Day is a special day for many in the service, but his thoughts are mainly with the families.
"Whenever I speak I've always pointed out that the ones who have the toughest service are the families," Rose said. "When I was in Vietnam I knew when I was safe, but my mother never knew if I was dead or alive."
While Rose was in the hospital recovering, his mother was being told he was "gravely wounded", which meant that he had less than a five percent chance of survival.
Rose recalled once arguing with a younger brother about something when the brother told him "Bill, you don't know what it is like to be 10 years old and see that Marine Corps car parked in the driveway."
"Memorial Day even more to me is to those who served back home," Rose said. "Those that have died are in a very wonderful place, and those who are left behind are the ones who have to live with that loss. My sadness is truly for the ones who are left behind."