Honoring a Hero on Memorial Day

Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure ~Abraham Lincoln

Roy P. Benavidez, Medal of Honor Winner

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.vietnam-memorial-statue.jpg

On the morning of 2 May, 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 the 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, Sergeant Benavidez took charge, repositioning the team members, 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 of 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, and with a beleaguered team, Sergeant Benavidez mustered his strength, and began calling in tactical air strikes and directing 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. He 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.

By the time the helicopter carrying Sergeant Benavidez and the others  arrived at a base camp he was thought to be dead.  As he was placed in a body bag he was recognized by a friend who called for help. A doctor came and examined him and he too believed Benavidez was dead. The doctor was about to zipper up the bag when Benavidez managed to spit, alerting the doctor that he was still alive.

Benavidez had a total of 37 separate bullet and shrapnel wounds from the six hour fight.  He was evacuated to Brooke Army Medical Center, where he eventually recovered. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism and four Purple Hearts. In 1969, he was assigned Fort Riley, Kansas.  In 1972, he was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he remained until retirement in 1976.

On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented Roy P. Benavidez the Medal of Honor.  Before the ceremony Reagan turned to the assembled reporters and said, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”

Benavidez was an acclaimed speaker and author until his death from complications of Diabetes in 1998.

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