A True Hero – Roy P. Benavdez

This is a post from my blog section “Profiles of True Heroes – Military and Law Enforcement”.  I love to go cycling.  As I started getting serious about it, I decided to name my routes after people – and who better to dedicate my routes to than the heroes in military and law enforcement?  

After completing a route, I would select a hero I had heard about and then write about them.  There are three types of people in this post: some gave their service for America and served in the armed forces.  Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  And some protected the local community and died in the line of duty.  

After their story, I included information about the route I dedicated to these heroes.  I hope you can learn more about them and gain an understanding of what they have done for us.

US Army Msgt. Roy P. Benavidez, Vietnam War – 5th Special Forces Group Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACVSOG)

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Benavidez was born on August 5, 1935 in Lindenau near Cuero, Texas in DeWitt County.  His father was a Mexican-American and his mother was a Yaqui Native American.  By the time he was 7 years old, he and his younger brother were orphaned.  The two Benavidez boys were then raised by his aunt and uncle along with eight cousins.

In 1952, Benavidez enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard and in June 1955, he enlisted in the regular US Army.  In 1959, he married Hilaria Coy Benavidez, completed airborne training, and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

During his first deployment to South Vietnam in 1965, he stepped on a land mine during a patrol and was evacuated back to the US.  There, the doctors at Fort Sam Houston said that he would never walk again and began preparing his medical discharge papers.  Benavidez, however, didn’t take the doctor’s advice and began an unauthorized evening workout ritual in an attempt to redevelop his capacity to walk.  He would get out of bed during the night (against doctors’ orders of course) and would crawl using his elbows and chin to a wall near his bed.  With the cheers and encouragement of the other patients (many of whom were permanently paralyzed and/or missing limbs), Roy would support himself against the wall and try to lift himself independently.  He would then move his toes, then he was able to wiggle his feet and finally after a few months of agonizing self motivation that usually left him in tears, he was able to prop himself against the wall unaided with his ankles and legs.  After over a year at Fort Sam Houston Hospital, Benavidez walked out in July 1966 with his wife beside him.  He had only one goal in mind: to return to combat in Vietnam.mqdefault

Benavidez returned to Fort Bragg and began training for the elite Army Special Forces.  Once qualified and approved, he became a member of the 5th Special Forces Group and the Studies and Observations Group (SOG).   The SOG was mainly made up of operators from the Army Special Forces, the newly formed Navy SEALS, Air Force Combat Controllers, CIA agents and parts of Marine Force Recon units.  This highly trained Special Forces group operated in vital recon missions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  They specialized in apprehending enemy soldiers, extracting pilots who had gone down and conducting POW recovery missions in Southeast Asia.  They were also trained for black ops and psychological warfare.  Despite the ongoing pain from his wounds, Benavidez returned to South Vietnam in January 1968.

On May 2, 1968, a 12-man Special Forces patrol set out on a mission.  Nine members of hte group were Montagnard tribesmen, highlander tribesmen who were recruited by the SOG. Soon, the partol was surrounded by a North Vietnamese company.  Benavidez heard the radio appeal for help and joined a team in a rescue helicopter.  Armed only with a knife, he jumped from the helicopter carrying his medical bag and rushed to help the trapped patrol.  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 evacuated to the base camp, examined and thought to be dead.  As he was placed in a body bag among the others, he was suddenly 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 close the bag when Benavidez spit in his face, alerting him that he was still alive.  Benavidez had a total of 37 separate bullet, bayonet and shrapnel wounds from the six-hour fight with the enemy battalion.

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Benavedez receiving his Distinguished Service Cross from General Westmooreland

He was evacuated once again back to the US, this time to Brooke Army Medical Center, where he eventually recovered.  He received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism and four Purple Hearts.  In 1969, he was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas.  In 1972, he was transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas where he remained until retirement.

In 1973, after more detailed accounts were unclassified and 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 denied him an upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor.  The Army board required an eyewitness account from someone present during the action and Benavidez believed that there were no living witnesses of the “Six Hours in Hell”.

benavidez6On 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.

In 1976, Benavidez, his wife and their three children returned home to El Campo, Texas, after he was honorably discharged from the army.  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.”

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 and 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.

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Route

Distance: 37.34 miles

Duration: 2 hours, 40 minutes, 43 seconds

Average Pace: 13.9 mph

Date: 04/22/2014

This was my second to longest bike route. I started where I did last week, then I headed northwest. It took me along the Cherry Creek path through downtown Denver, just past I-76 in Commerce City! It was a good ride but it was HOT! I think the average temp was in the 80s. On the way back, I ran out of water (my camel pak holds 2 liters!) and my phone almost overheated! It was an all around amazing ride and I wouldn’t mind taking it again sometime.  Despite the relative “pain” I went through, it was nothing compared to what Roy Benavedez endured!  May he never be forgotten!

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5 thoughts on “A True Hero – Roy P. Benavdez

    1. Yvette. Thank you so much for reading my blog! It was an honor to write about your father! He is a true hero and I enjoyed learning what I could about his life. Thanks for informing me about his picture too. I’ll try to find one and replace it.

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