Power of persistence: Bad events can yield positive results

There is a lovely saying, first expressed by Elbert Hubbard in 1914: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”


I prefer a longer phrase: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, set up a lemonade stand and bring joy to your neighborhood by giving free lemonade to all the kids.”

Once in a while, extremely good results emerge after something very bad occurs. This fact is useful to consider when you or the people around you are going through a very difficult time. What follows is an event which started out poorly but, over time, resulted in five positive results.

In June 1998, CNN made a major mistake – a foul-up that was so bad that the founder of CNN, Ted Turner, called it the biggest mistake of his life. Two CNN reporters produced a special titled The Valley of Death. This TV special, which was narrated by Peter Arnett, examined a highly classified military operation, Operation Tailwind, during the war in Southeast Asia. CNN accused the soldiers and airmen of war crimes, including dropping lethal nerve gas and massacring large numbers of civilians.

Operation Tailwind, which took place in Laos in September 1970, was conducted by an Army Special Forces unit. A small number of highly trained U.S. Army soldiers led the operation. These U.S. Army soldiers were accompanied by some allied troops (Montagnard tribesmen from South Vietnam). From the moment these troops were inserted in enemy territory, they came under heavy fire. On the last day of the operation, Air Force pilots were called in to provide support while Marine helicopters rescued the embattled soldiers.

Operation Tailwind was successful both in the intelligence information collected and in the “extraction under fire” operation led by the Marine helicopters. Every American warrior survived.

Thanks to the persistence of officials in the Pentagon and many retired veterans, CNN’s outrageous Valley of Death special in June 1998 led to a number of positive events:

The Department of Defense finally declassified this operation and proved that CNN’s charges were wrong in every dimension.

After receiving great pressure from outraged special forces and special operation troops, CNN produced an on-air retraction (very unusual in the TV world).

Three years later, at a moving ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., this Special Forces unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

A few years later, Gene McCarley, who was the ground commander throughout Operation Tailwind and who worked so hard to get his soldiers’ heroism properly recognized, was inducted into the Infantry Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.

On Dec. 23, 2016, President Obama signed into law the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes the Medal of Honor for the only medic in Operation Tailwind, Sgt. Gary “Mike” Rose.

Thanks to the dogged efforts of an Army veteran, Neil Thorne, and with the help of many, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Mike Rose, who treated 51 wounded soldiers in an intense four-day operation, will soon be recognized at a Medal of Honor ceremony in the White House. This modest man will receive the award he so richly deserves. Many of his combat buddies will attend.

Excerpts from the citation from Rose’s soon-to-be-upgraded Distinguished Service Cross follow:

“Enemy B-40 rockets and mortar rounds rained while the foe sprayed the area with small arms, automatic weapons, and machine gun fire, wounding many. One ally was unable to reach protective shelter. Sgt. Rose sprinted to his downed comrade’s side.

“The sergeant then used his own body to protect the casualty from further injury while treating his wounds. After stopping the blood flow, Sgt. Rose carried the man back through the bullet-ridden zone to protective cover. Suddenly, a B-40 rocket impacted just meters from Sgt. Rose, inflicting wounds throughout his body.

“Ignoring his own pain, Sgt. Rose continued to administer medical treatment to the other injured soldiers. Despite the deadly volleys falling around him, Sgt. Rose administered medical treatment to countless men; two were so severely wounded that they would have died without the sergeant’s vigilant care.

“Sgt. Rose, though tired and wounded, refused evacuation until all other casualties were safely out of the area.”

Let me shift gears and remind you, dear readers, of the event this Thursday, Jan. 5, at the Augusta Museum of History. The Jimmie Dyess Symposium will highlight the legacy of Augusta’s greatest hero, Lt. Col. Jimmie Dyess, U.S. Marine Corps. Three living Americans will receive the Dyess Symposium’s Distinguished American Award – Medal of Honor recipient Hal Fritz; renowned educator Beverly Barnhart; and World War II veteran Ambassador Ted Britton. This event runs from 5 to 6 p.m. Afterward, you will have the opportunity to visit the three honorees.

Please come. As always, this uplifting event is free.

(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – serves of the board of the Augusta Museum of History. His website is genpsmith.com.)



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