MSG Roy Benavidez - Medal of Honor
This month, and through October, we will print stories about influential and courageous Hispanics in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Even in Texas, with all of our legends and heroes from Audie Murphy to George Strait to Davy Crockett and The Alamo, the shadow of Roy Benavidez looms large.
Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez was born in DeWitt County, near Cuero, on August 5th, 1935. He was a descendant of the founders of Benavides, County. Roy was the son of a Mexican farmer, Salvador Benavidez, and Yaqui Indian mother Teresa Perez. Roy joined the National Guard in 1952, during the Korean War. He would serve in the National Guard until 1955, when he joined the active duty army.
Due to the life and legacy of Benavidez, for years members of the League of United Latin American Citizens have been pushing to have Fort Hood renamed in his honor.
The story of Roy Benavidez’s actions in Vietnam on May 2, 1969 seem like something drawn from the pages of a W.E.B. Griffin or Tom Clancy novel. But, the true story is more powerful, impressive and more defining of the man than any fiction could be. But, the legend of his determination and will power began long before 1968.
In 1955, Benavidez would graduate from the US Army Airborne School at Fort Bragg. After Airborne school, Benavidez would go on to graduate from the Green Beret course and join the elite fighting men.
Benavidez was first assigned to Vietnam in 1965. During that deployment, working as an observer with SOG (Studies and Observation Group), he was in the field with a South Vietnamese unit when he stepped on a land mine. He was airlifted to the hospital in Vietnam and then to Brooke Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. It was there that doctors told him that he would never walk again.
The doctors drew up medical discharge papers while Benavidez performed his own version of physical therapy. He would crawl on his hands and elbows, also using his chin to pull himself across the floor to a wall where he’d attempt to lift himself up. He did this night after night as other wounded soldiers cheered him on. Doctors and the medical staff didn’t know of Benavidez’s “physical therapy.” At first he could only wiggle his toes and he progressed to wiggling his ankles and feet. Later, he’d use his legs and ankles to push himself up the wall, all the while experiencing excruciating pain. Years later Benavidez would say that there were times where he was reduced to tears from the agony of his nightly workouts. Benavidez said that protests against soldiers and the war were discouraging and drove him to push himself.
It took less than a year for Benavidez to recover from the land mine wounds. In July 1966, Benavidez was discharged from Brooke Army Medical Center and headed back to Ft. Bragg.
In 1968, a determined Benavidez would once again travel to Vietnam.
On May 2, 1968, a Special Forces 12-man patrol was conducting operations when they came under attack by a battalion of over 1,000 North Vietnamese Army soldiers. Benavidez was not on that patrol, but he was monitoring it via radio back at the Special Forces command post. This would begin what Benavidez would refer to as, “6 Hours in Hell.”
As helicopters went out to attempt to rescue the trapped soldiers, Benavidez jumped on one of the choppers carrying nothing more than his field knife and medic bag. He would run through automatic weapons fire, grenades, rockets and even get bayoneted by an enemy soldier before he killed the man with his own knife and rescued many members of the team. During the battle, an undaunted Benavidez suffered an incredible 37 separate shrapnel wounds. Even that my not be the most impressive aspect of his actions that day.
The Medal of Honor citation describes Benavidez’s actions:
Master Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Roy P. BENAVIDEZ United States Army, distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely valorous actions on 2 May 1968 while assigned to Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Republic of Vietnam.
On the morning of 2 May 1968, a 12-man Special Forces Reconnaissance Team was inserted by helicopters of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company in a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam to gather intelligence information about confirmed large-scale enemy activity. This area was controlled and routinely patrolled by the North Vietnamese Army. After a short period of time on the ground, the team met heavy enemy resistance, and requested emergency extraction. Three helicopters attempted extraction, but were unable to land due to intense enemy small arms and anti-aircraft fire.
Sergeant BENAVIDEZ was at the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh monitoring the operation by radio when these helicopters, of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, returned to off-load wounded crew members and to assess aircraft damage. Sergeant BENAVIDEZ voluntarily boarded a returning aircraft to assist in another extraction attempt. Realizing that all the team members were either dead or wounded and unable to move to the pickup zone, he directed the aircraft to a nearby clearing where he jumped from the hovering helicopter, and ran approximately 75 meters under withering small arms fire to the crippled team.
Prior to reaching the team's position he was wounded in his right leg, face, and head. Despite these painful injuries, he took charge, repositioning the team members and directing their fire to facilitate the landing of an extraction aircraft, and the loading of wounded and dead team members. He then threw smoke canisters to direct the aircraft to the team's position. Despite his severe wounds and under intense enemy fire, he carried and dragged half of the wounded team members to the awaiting aircraft. He then provided protective fire by running alongside the aircraft as it moved to pick up the remaining team members. As the enemy's fire intensified, he hurried to recover the body and classified documents on the dead team leader.
When he reached the leader's body, Sergeant BENAVIDEZ was severely wounded by small arms fire in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. At nearly the same moment, the aircraft pilot was mortally wounded, and his helicopter crashed. Although in extremely critical condition due to his multiple wounds, Sergeant BENAVIDEZ secured the classified documents and made his way back to the wreckage, where he aided the wounded out of the overturned aircraft, and gathered the stunned survivors into a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to his weary men, reinstilling in them a will to live and fight. Facing a buildup of enemy opposition with a beleaguered team, Sergeant BENAVIDEZ mustered his strength, began calling in tactical air strikes and directed the fire from supporting gunships to suppress the enemy's fire and so permit another extraction attempt.
He was wounded again in his thigh by small arms fire while administering first aid to a wounded team member just before another extraction helicopter was able to land. His indomitable spirit kept him going as he began to ferry his comrades to the craft. On his second trip with the wounded, he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, he sustained additional wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary. He then continued under devastating fire to carry the wounded to the helicopter. Upon reaching the aircraft, he spotted and killed two enemy soldiers who were rushing the craft from an angle that prevented the aircraft door gunner from firing upon them. With little strength remaining, he made one last trip to the perimeter to ensure that all classified material had been collected or destroyed, and to bring in the remaining wounded.
Only then, in extremely serious condition from numerous wounds and loss of blood, did he allow himself to be pulled into the extraction aircraft. Sergeant BENAVIDEZ' gallant choice to join voluntarily his comrades who were in critical straits, to expose himself constantly to withering enemy fire, and his refusal to be stopped despite numerous severe wounds, saved the lives of at least eight men. His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.
Dead or alive?
Once Benavidez was evacuated to the base camp, a doctor examined him and said that he was dead. Benavidez was placed in a body bag and was being moved when a fellow soldier recognized him and called for help. A doctor came over and examined him again and, once again, it was determined the Benavidez was dead. As the doctor began zipping up the body bag, Benavidez managed to spit in the doctor’s face. This, naturally, showed the doctor that Benavidez was not dead and was still very much alive, albeit extremely weak.
Benavidez was then evacuated back to Brooke Army Medical Center to recover from his wounds.
Roy Benavidez continued to serve in the army for another 6 years, retiring in 1974 with 24 years of service.
His ribbons and awards included the Medal of Honor, 5 Purple Hearts, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 4 campaign stars, Vietnam Campaign Device - 1960, Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, Combat Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Army Special Forces Tab.
Although Benavidez was now retired, his duty to his fellow soldiers wasn’t over. In 1983, Benavidez told the press that the Social Security Administration planned to cut off disability payments he had been receiving since his retirement, as well as the disability payments for thousands of other veterans. He went to Capitol Hill and pleaded with the House Select Committee on Aging to abandon their plans, which they finally did.
After he left the army he became a speaker who spoke to groups and military units around the world. Benavidez spoke of the importance of education. He wrote 3 autobiographical books along the way.
Master Sergeant Benavidez passed away on November 29, 1998, at the age of 63.
Benavidez' personal honors include:
1981 Texan of the Year
Honorary Associate in Arts from the New Mexico Military Institute
Special USPS Pictorial Cancellation Stamp
Lifetime Achievement Award from St. Mary's University Alumni Law School in San Antonio, Texas
Listed on the Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis, Indiana
Listed on The Medal of Honor Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California
Texas Legislative Medal of Honor
GI Joe, Roy P. Benavidez Commemorative Edition – Released August 31, 2001 (First Hispanic to be honored.)
Memorial Bench at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
Buildings and institutions with Benavidez's name include:
Roy P. Benavidez - Robert M. Patterson "All Airborne" Chapter, 82nd Airborne Div. Assn., Inc, El Paso, Texas
Roy P. Benavidez American Legion Post #400 in San Antonio, Texas
Roy P. Benavidez Army Reserve Center, NAS Corpus Christi, Texas
Roy P. Benavidez Artillery Training Area 67 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma
Roy P. Benavidez City Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Roy P. Benavidez Elementary School in Gulfton, Houston, Texas
Roy P. Benavidez Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas
Roy P. Benavidez Foundation, Inc.
Roy P. Benavidez Military Range at Fort Knox, Kentucky
Roy P. Benavidez National Guard Armory in El Campo, Texas
Roy P. Benavidez Scholarship Fund in El Campo
Roy P. Benavidez Special Operations Logistic Complex at Fort Bragg, North Carolina
USNS Benavidez, a Bob Hope-class roll on roll off vehicle cargo ship
Roy P. Benavidez Recreation Center in Eagle Pass, Texas
The conference room owned and operated by the Department of Military Instruction of the United States Military Academy is the "Benavidez Room". Inside the "Benavidez Room" there are signed pictures of MSG Benavidez, the citation from his Medal of Honor, and a G.I. Joe toy created in his likeness. The room is used primarily for planning Cadet Summer Military Training and hosting visitors.
The Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez Noncommissioned Officer Academy of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, Fort Benning, GA
Roy Benavidez's Medal of Honor is on display at the Ronald Reagan Library along with a video of him receiving the medal from President Reagan.
The life and legacy of native Texan & Congressional Medal of Honor winner Roy Benavidez will live forever in the annals of Texas heroes.