|Raul (Roy) Perez Benavidez|
August 5, 1935|
|Died||November 29, 1998
Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas
|Place of burial||Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||Texas National Guard
United States Army
|Years of service||1952 – 1955 (National Guard)
1955 – 1976 (Army)
|Unit||5th Special Forces Group
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACVSOG)
|Awards||Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Texas Legislative Medal of Honor
|Other work||two autobiographical works|
Master Sergeant Raul (Roy) Perez Benavidez (August 5, 1935 – November 29, 1998) was a member of the Studies and Observations Group of the United States Army. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat near Lộc Ninh, South Vietnam on May 2, 1968.
Childhood and early life
Roy P. Benavidez was born in Lindenau near Cuero, Texas in DeWitt County. He was the son of a Mexican father and a Yaqui Indian mother. When he was two years old, his father died of tuberculosis and his mother remarried. Five years later, his mother died from tuberculosis too. Benavidez and his younger brother, Roger moved to El Campo, where their grandfather, uncle and aunt raised them along with eight cousins.
Benavidez shined shoes at the local bus station, labored on farms in Texas and Colorado, and worked at a tire shop in El Campo. He attended school sporadically, and at the age 15 he dropped out to work full-time to help support the family.
In 1952, during the Korean War, Benavidez enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard. In June 1955, he enlisted in the regular United States Army. He married Hilaria Coy Benavidezin 1959, the year he completed his airborne training and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. In 1965 he was sent to South Vietnam as an advisor to an ARVN infantry regiment. He stepped on a land mine during a patrol and was evacuated to the United States, where doctors at Fort Sam Houston concluded he would never walk again and began preparing his medical discharge papers. As Benavidez noted in his 1981 MOH acceptance speech, stung by the diagnosis, as well as flag burnings and media criticism of the US military presence in Vietnam he saw on TV, he began an unsanctioned nightly training ritual in an attempt to redevelop his ability to walk. Getting out of bed at night (against doctors orders), Benavidez would crawl using his elbows and chin to a wall near his bedside and (with the encouragement of his fellow patients, many of whom were permanently paralyzed and/or missing limbs), he would prop himself against the wall and attempt to lift himself unaided, starting by wiggling his toes, then his feet, and then eventually (after several months of excruciating practice that by his own admission often left him in tears) pushing himself up the wall with his ankles and legs. After over a year of hospitalization, Benavidez walked out of the hospital in July 1966, with his wife at his side, determined to return to combat in Vietnam.
Benavidez returned to Fort Bragg to begin training for the elite Studies and Observations Group (SOG). Despite continuing pain from his wounds, he became a member of the 5th Special Forces Group and returned to South Vietnam in January 1968. On May 2, 1968, a 12-man Special Forces team was surrounded by a NVA battalion. Benavidez heard the radio appeal for help and boarded a helicopter to respond. Armed only with a knife, he jumped from the helicopter carrying a medical bag and rushed to join the trapped team. Benavidez "distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely glorious actions... and because of his 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." He was believed dead after finally being evacuated and was being zipped up in a body bag when he mustered the last of his strength and spit in the face of a medic, thereby alerting nearby medical personnel that he was still alive. (see medal citation below)
Nearly dead from a total of 37 separate bayonet, bullet and shrapnel wounds received on multiple occasions over the course of the six hour fight between the 13 men and an enemy battalion, Benavidez was evacuated once again to Brooke Army Medical Center, where he eventually recovered. For his heroism, the Army awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross.
In 1973, after more detailed accounts became available, Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Ralph R. Drake insisted that Benavidez receive the Medal of Honor. By then, however, the time limit on the medal had expired. An appeal to Congress resulted in an exemption for Benavidez, but the Army Decorations Board still denied him the Medal of Honor. The board required an eyewitness account from someone present during the action, but Benavidez thought that no others were alive who had been at the "Six Hours in Hell."
In 1980, however, Brian O'Connor, a radioman in the attacked Special Forces team, provided a ten-page report of the engagement. O'Connor had been severely wounded (Benavidez had believed him dead), and was evacuated to the United States before his superiors could fully debrief him. O'Connor learned that Benavidez was alive by chance. He had been living in the Fiji Islands and was on holiday in Australia when he read a newspaper account of Benavidez from an El Campo newspaper. It had been picked up by the international press and reprinted in Australia. O'Connor soon contacted his old friend and submitted his report, confirming the accounts already provided by others and providing the missing eyewitness.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented Roy P. Benavidez the Medal of Honor. Reagan reportedly turned to the press and said: "If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it". He then read the official award citation.
Medal of Honor 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. 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 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 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.[note 1] 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.
Despite the severe injuries Master Sergeant Benavidez sustained in Vietnam, he continued serving the Army and was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In August 1976 he retired from the United States Army as a Master Sergeant. Benavidez, his wife, and their three children then returned home to El Campo, Texas.
Benavidez devoted his remaining years to the youth of America, speaking to them about the importance of staying in school and getting an education. His message was simple: "An education is the key to success. Bad habits and bad company will ruin you."
In 1983, Benavidez told the press that the Social Security Administration planned to cut off disability payments he had been receiving since retirement, as well as the disability payments for thousands of other veterans. He went to Capitol Hill on their behalf and pleaded with the House Select Committee on Aging to abandon their plans, which they finally did.
Benavidez was in demand as a speaker by United States armed forces, schools, military and civic groups, and private businesses. He also spoke in Greece, Panama, Korea, and Japan, where he visited American military personnel and even joined them on field exercises. He received complimentary letters from students, service members, and private citizens throughout the world.
He wrote three autobiographical books about his life and military experience. In 1986, he published The Three Wars of Roy Benavidez, which described his struggles growing up as a poor Mexican-American orphan, his military training and combat in Vietnam, and the efforts by others to get recognition for his actions in Vietnam. Benavidez later wrote "The Last Medal of Honor" (Texas: Swan Publishers, 1991) with Pete Billac and Medal of Honor: A Vietnam Warrior's Story in 1995.
Roy Benavidez died on November 29, 1998, at the age of 63 at Brooke Army Medical Center, having suffered respiratory failure and complications of diabetes. His body was escorted to St. Robert Bellarmine's Catholic Church, where he had married, where his three children were married, where he attended Mass every Sunday. He was then returned to Fort Sam Houston's Main Chapel for a public viewing. Family friend Archbishop Patrick Flores of the San Antonio Dioceses presided over a Catholic funeral mass at San Fernando Cathedral located in San Antonio.
Benavidez was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
Awards, honors, and recognitions
Among Benavidez's decorations and medals were the following:
- Medal of Honor
- Distinguished Service Cross (superseded by award of the Medal of Honor)
- Purple Heart with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters
- Defense Meritorious Service Medal
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Army Commendation Medal
- Army Good Conduct Medal (7 awards)
- Army of Occupation Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
- Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
- Vietnam Service Medal with 4 campaign stars
- Vietnam Campaign Medal
- Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm
- Texas Legislative Medal of Honor
- Presidential Unit Citation
- Combat Infantryman Badge
- Master Parachutist Badge
- Army Special Forces Tab
Honors and recognitions
- 1981 Texan of the Year
- Honorary Associate in Arts from the New Mexico Military Institute
- Presented Martha Raye with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
- Special USPS Pictorial Cancellation Stamp
- Lifetime Achievement Award from St. Mary's University Alumni Law School in San Antonio, Texas
- Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis, Indiana
- 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
There are a number of institutions and buildings that bear Benavidez's name. These include:
- 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
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.
- List of Medal of Honor recipients for the Vietnam War
- List of Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients
- Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group
- The original, commonly quoted citation as published contained an error that essentially left out a line of text. DA GO 2001-25 corrected that error and replaced it with the text found in the previous two sentences.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oUtJxE4sjs. MSG Roy Benavidez, MOH acceptance speech, Time index 10:27.
- Last Full Measure of Devotion: A Tribute to America's Heroes of the Vietnam War at Google Books
- "Department of the Army General Order 2001-25, Individual and Unit Awards, Sec XIV, Medal of Honor - Amendment". Headquarters, Department of the Army.
- "Department of the Army General Order 1981-08, Award of the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez". Headquarters, Department of the Army.
- Roy Benavidez with Oscar Griffin, The Three Wars of Roy Benavidez (New York: Ballantine, 1986).
- Roy Benevidez with John R. Craig, Medal of Honor: One Man's Journey From Poverty and Prejudice, Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 1995.
- Goldstein, Richard. "Roy P. Benavidez, Recipient Of Medal of Honor, Dies at 63", New York Times, New York City, December 04, 1998. Retrieved on 2011-02-05.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
- "Profiles: Staff Sgt Roy Benavidez". Hispanic Americans in the U.S. Army. U.S. Army. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Gilmore, Gerry J. (September 19, 2000). "USNS Benavidez Honors Army Medal of Honor Hero". DefenseLINK News (Department of Defense). Archived from the original on October 28, 2006. Retrieved November 18, 2006.
- Benavidez, Roy P. with John R. Craig (1995). Medal of Honor: A Vietnam Warrior's Story. Brassey's Inc. ISBN 0-02-881098-8. LCCN 94027283.
- Benavidez, Roy P. with Pete Billac (1991). The Last Medal of Honor. Swan Publishers. ASIN B000J3KLN4.
- Benavidez, Roy; Oscar Griffin (1986). The three wars of Roy Benavidez. San Antonio, Texas: Corona Publishing Co. ISBN 0-931722-58-6. LCCN 86070715.
- "A Guide to the Roy P. Benavidez Papers, 1943-2007". The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
- "Biography on Psywarrior site".
- "Handbook of Texas Online".
- "Roy Benavidez." Texas State Cemetery
- "Benavidez' daughter writes about his death from diabetes".
- Elder, Daniel K. "Remarkable Sergeants: Ten Vignettes of Noteworthy NCOs", Center for the Advanced Studies of the US Army Noncommissioned Officer, April 30, 2003. (URL accessed on November 8, 2008).
- "Late sergeant's family donates papers to UT". The Daily Texan.
- "Texas War Hero Roy Benavidez Honored in Exhibit at Center for American History". The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
- "Exhibit honors Texas hero". The Daily Texan.
- "West Point honors EC's fallen hero". El Campo Leader News.