Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez was born Raul Perez Benavidez at Cuero, Texas, August 5, 1935. His father was Salvador Benavidez, a Mexican American, and his mother was Teresa Perez, an American Yaqui Indian. Raul's parents died when he was a child, and he and his younger brother were then raised by their Uncle Nicholas and Aunt Alexandria at El Campo, Texas. He dropped out of school during the seventh grade and enlisted in the Texas National Guard at age seventeen. At nineteen he joined the Regular Army as Roy Perez Benavidez and got his infantry training at Fort Ord, California. By 1958 he had served in South Korea and Germany. Returning to the United States he married a childhood sweetheart, Lala Coy on June 7, 1959. They had three children. In 1959 he attended military police school at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and in 1965 was in Vietnam as a military adviser to the Vietnamese Army. While on patrol he was badly wounded after stepping on a land mine and was evacuated to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, with serious bone and cartilage damage to his spine. After a long period of treatment and rehabilitation he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam, this time in the Special Forces as a Green Beret. On the morning of May 2, 1968, Sergeant Benavidez was in the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh, when rescue helicopters returned from Cambodia after an unsuccessful attempt to extract a Special Forces team. Benavidez volunteered for another rescue attempt, an event that would become "six hours in hell" in his own words.
Reaching the pick-up zone, Sergeant Benavidez jumped from the helicopter and ran about eighty yards through withering fire to the embattled team. He was wounded in the right leg, face, and head. In spite of his injuries he directed the landing of the extraction helicopter and assisted in the loading of dead and wounded team members, and he then proceeded to collect classified papers and a radio from the dead team leader. During this action he continued to receive wounds from small arms fire and shrapnel. When the chopper pilot was shot and the rescue helicopter crashed Benavidez assisted the wounded and dazed men out of the overturned machine, and facing increasing enemy opposition, he called in tactical air strikes and directed supporting gunfire to attempt another rescue. He then began assisting the wounded aboard another helicopter. He sustained more injuries during hand-to-hand combat with an enemy soldier and also killed two others during the frantic rush to secure all the wounded. Benavidez received a total of seven bullet wounds to his legs and torso as well as numerous other bayonet and shrapnel cuts. His brave and decisive actions during the rescue attempt resulted in saving at least eight soldiers. He received four Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross. He was released from the hospital in 1969 after a year of intensive medical treatment and therapy and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1972 he was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he served out the duration of his military career until his retirement on September 10, 1976.
The unselfish devotion of Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez to his comrades, and to his country, was deserving of the Medal of Honor. Many of his comrades thought the recommendation for the MOH was submitted, but the award was not made at that time. Efforts were made on his behalf, sufficient witnesses were finally located, and the award was presented on February 24, 1981, by President Reagan, in the White House. Because this action, for which the award was made, took place in Cambodia, there has been some speculation that political embarrassment may have contributed to the delay. Benavidez retired with total disability from the United States Army in 1976 and moved to El Campo, Texas. After being notified in 1983 that his disability was being questioned by the Social Security Administration, he became a spokesperson for others who were being denied benefits. He was called to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging. His testimony contributed to the restoration of benefits to many recipients. Master Sergeant Benavidez died at the age of sixty-three on November 29, 1998, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He was buried with full military honors in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. On July 21, 2001, the U. S. Navy christened the USNS Benavidez, a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship in honor of the military hero.
CitationMaster 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 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.
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Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery