This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri October 10th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
I met Roy Benavidez in May 1966, after I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant and reassigned from the 3rd Battalion to the 2nd Battalion 325th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division. I was assigned as the Personnel Sergeant for a month before I went to Vietnam. Sergeant Roy Benavidez was also an infantryman working in the S1 (Administrative) Shop doing jobs for the Sergeant Major and some reenlistment paperwork. At the time, to me, he was just a happy Mexican sergeant, bouncing along doing his job. What I didn’t know, at the time, was that he was just getting back into shape after weeks of drinking and pain pills because of extreme pain. In October 1965 he had gone to Vietnam as an advisor to a South Vietnamese Infantry unit, and stepped on a land mine. The mine didn’t explode, but the ignition charge blew the whole mine into his butt. He was evacuated to the Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he was told that he would never walk again.
At Fort Sam Houston he was wheeled into “wheel chair therapy” classes with amputees, where they were taught how to live in a wheel chair. Doctors told him that they would start processing a medical discharge for him, but Roy Benavidez was determined to walk and to stay in the Army. At night, against doctors’ orders, he would get out of bed and crawl to the wall where he would try to push himself up. Enduring the most excruciating pain, he would sit against the wall, pull his knees up and try to push. He first got his toes to wiggle, then he was able to put his feet flat, and finally push up against the wall, to the cheering of the other patients. Finally, with his wife at his side determined not to show the extreme pain he was experiencing, he walked into the doctors’ office and demanded that he be allowed to return to active duty. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 325th Infantry at Fort Bragg. Still in the most unbearable pain, he saw a doctor friend on the sly who gave him Darvon prescriptions off the record. As soon as he got off work he went to the club and drank until he could go home and go to sleep. He said that the Darvon helped him make it through the day, and the alcohol helped him sleep at night. Finally when the doctor told him that he was killing himself, he quit both cold turkey and started running. That’s when I met him. We both left about the same time. I went to Vietnam, and he went to Special Forces training.
On February 24th 1981 President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant, then retired, Roy Benavidez. Before reading the citation, the President turned to the press and said; “If the story of his heroism was a movie script, you would not believe it.” The thirteen year delay from the time of the action to the presentation was due to the mission being classified until 1980, and finding an eye witness still alive. The official citation;
Master Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Roy P. Benavidez United States Army, who 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 in a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam to gather intelligence information about confirmed large-scale enemy activity. The 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 returned to off-load wounded crewmembers 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 team leader’s body, Sergeant Benavidez was severely wounded by small arms 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, re-instilling 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 with 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 remaining strength, 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.
When the enemy soldier clubbed him from behind it knocked him down and broke his jaw. The NVA soldier then tried to stab Benavidez with a bayonet on his rifle, Roy grabbed the bayonet, knowing it would cut his hand, and pulled the enemy to him while he stabbed the NVA with his knife in his other hand. From that point on he couldn’t talk because of the broken Jaw. When he was pulled into the helicopter, he was trying to hold his intestines in his stomach. He was unconscious when the helicopter landed. Thinking he was dead, the medics put him in a body bag, and a doctor who was checking the bodies in the body bags started to zip up Roy’s bag. Roy said he woke up and realized where he was, but he couldn’t talk. He said he could hear that zipper moving and he then said that he made the greatest shot of his life, he spat in the doctor’s face.
After being stabilized in Vietnam, Roy Benavidez was moved to the Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, with over thirty wounds. While he was there, General William C. Westmoreland, the Chief of Staff of the Army, flew to Fort Sam and awarded Roy the Distinguished Service Cross.
Roy had a mentor and friend from Special Forces training who was killed while in Detachment B-56. Roy couldn’t find out much about how he died, because most of what B-56 did was classified, but Green Berets talk to Green Berets. I can tell you from personal experience, spend a little money and a few nights at the Special Forces Playboy Club at Nha Trang, the SF headquarters, and you could get a lot of information. Roy requested and got an assignment to B-56 and soon acquired a reputation for being a stand up fearless guy in action. Everyone in SF had a radio call sign not associated with their real name. Roy’s was Tango Mike/Mike. That mean Mexican, but Roy was only half Mexican, his mother was a Yaqui Indian. The Yaqui were the fiercest Indian tribe in North America, even the Apache would not enter Yaqui lands.
Roy retired from the Army in 1976, and after the Medal of Honor presentation in 1981 he became a motivational speaker to school students. He was in demand all over the world, and many of his speeches are still on youtube. He wrote a book about his life titled, “Medal of Honor – One man’s journey from poverty and prejudice.” He once said; “Faith and perseverance will win out over sheer ability every time.”
Roy died from diabetes complications November 29th 1998. He was 63. He is buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Military Cemetary.