|Special Forces Heroes:
Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez
Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez
Roy Benavidez could not speak.
His jaws were locked, clubbed by a North Vietnamese rifle. Nor
could he see. His eyes were caked in blood and unable to open.
But he could tell what was happening, and it was the scariest
moment of a day fraught with fear. He lay in a body bag, bathed
in his own blood, and a doctor was pronouncing him dead.
'That's Roy," pleaded a
buddy, "help him." The physician shook his head.
"There's nothing I can do for him," the doctor said as
he bent over to zip up the bag. Benavidez spit in his face.
The 32-year-old son of a Texas
sharecropper had just performed for six hours one of the most
remarkable feats of the Vietnam War. Benavidez was a
seventh-grade dropout and an orphan who grew up taunted by the
term "dumb Mexican." But, as Ronald Reagan noted, if
the story of what he accomplished was made into a movie, no one
would believe it really happened.
Roy Benavidez's ordeal began at
Loc Ninh, a Green Beret outpost near the Cambodian border. It
was 1:30 p.m., May 2, 1968. A chaplain was holding a prayer
service around a jeep for the sergeant and several other
soldiers. Suddenly, shouts rang out from a nearby short-wave
radio. "Get us out of here!" someone screamed.
"For God's sake, get us out!" A 12-man team monitoring
enemy troop movements in the jungle had found itself surrounded
by a North Vietnamese army battalion.
With out orders, Benavidez
grabbed his rifle and dashed for a helicopter preparing for a
rescue attempt. "I'm coming with you," he told the
three crew members. Airborne, they spotted the soldiers in a
tight circle. A few hundred enemy troops surrounded them in the
jungle, some within 25 yards of the Americans' position. The
chopper dropped low, ran into withering fire and quickly
retreated. Spotting a small clearing 75 yards away, Benavidez
told the pilot, "Over there, over there."
The helicopter reached the
clearing and hovered 10 feet off the ground. Benavidez made the
sign of the cross, jumped out and ran toward the trapped men. A
bullet hit his right leg. He fell, then got up and kept running.
An exploding hand grenade knocked him down and ripped his face
with shrapnel. He shouted prayers, got up again and staggered to
Four of the soldiers were dead;
the other eight wounded and pinned down in two groups. Benavidez
directed the helicopter to a landing near one group. He dragged
the dead and wounded aboard. The chopper lifted a few feet off
the ground and moved toward the second group, with Benavidez
running beneath it, firing his rifle. He spotted the body of the
team leader. Ordering the other soldiers to crawl toward the
chopper, he retrieved a pouch dangling from the dead man's neck;
in the pouch were classified papers with radio codes and call
signs. As he shoved the papers into his shirt, a bullet struck
his stomach and a grenade shattered his back. And the
helicopter, barely off the ground, suddenly crashed, its pilot
Benavidez pulled the wounded from
the wreckage, forming a small perimeter. He passed out
ammunition taken from the dead and radioed for air support. Jets
and helicopter gunships strafed threatening enemy soldiers while
Benavidez tended the wounded. "Are you hurt bad,
Sarge?" one soldier asked. "Hell, no," said
Benavidez, about to collapse from blood loss. I been hit so many
times I don't give a damn no more."
Enemy fire raked the perimeter.
Several of the wounded were hit again, including Benavidez, who
took a bullet in the thigh. Blood streamed down his face,
blinding him. Still he called in air strikes, adjusting their
targets by sound. Several times, pilots thought he was dead, but
then his voice would come back on the radio, calling for closer
Finally, a helicopter landed.
"Pray and move out," Benavidez told the men as he
helped each one aboard. He staggered through tall grass to fetch
another soldier. Suddenly an NVA soldier stood up, swung his
rifle and clubbed the sergeant in the face. Benavidez fell,
rolled over and got up just as the soldier lunged forward with
his bayonet. Benavidez grabbed it, slashing his right hand, and
pulled his attacker toward him. With his left hand, he drew his
knife and stabbed the NVA. As Benavidez dragged an American to
the chopper, he saw two enemy soldiers come out of the jungle.
He grabbed a rifle and shot both. Benavidez made one more trip
to the clearing and came back with a Vietnamese interpreter.
Only then did the sergeant let others pull him aboard the
Blood dripped from the door as
the chopper lumbered into the air. Benavidez was holding in his
intestines with his hand. At Loc Ninh, he was so immobile they
placed him with the dead. Even after he spit in the doctor's
face and was taken from the body bag, Benavidez was considered a
goner. His commander recommended he get the Distinguished
Service Cross for his valor in saving eight lives. The
recommendation was rushed through approval channels. A Medal of
Honor would have taken much longer, thought the commander, and
Benavidez would die before he got it. But Benavidez lived. Over
the next year, surgeons removed half of his left lung and most
of the shrapnel from his body. He also won another battle. He
was allowed to stay in the Army.
Years later, his former commander
learned that Benavidez had survived the war. The officer also
learned more details of the sergeant's mission and concluded
that Benavidez merited a higher honor. Years of red tape
followed. On Feb. 24, 1981, President Reagan told White House
reporters "you are going to hear something you would not
believe if it were a script." Reagan then read Roy
Benavidez's citation for the Medal of Honor.
Benavidez has been retired for 15
years, subsisting on an 80-percent medical disability. He lives
in El Campo, Texas, with his wife, Hilaria, and three children.
He frequently speaks at schools and colleges and even runaway
shelters. "A lot of youth don't realize what a beautiful
country we have or how many lives have been lost to keep the
flag waving," he says. "Young people are the future
leaders of the country. They can keep it great."
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