b. 05/08/1935 Cuero, Texas. d. 29/11/1998 Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 02/05/1968 Loc Nimh, Vietnam.
Roy P. Benavidez was born in Lindenau near Cuero, Texas in DeWitt County. He was the son of a Mexican-American father, Salvador Benavidez and a Yaqui Indian mother, Teresa Perez. When he was two years old, his father died of tuberculosis and his mother remarried. Five years later, his mother died from tuberculosis as well. 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 California and Washington, D.C., and worked at a tire shop in El Campo. He attended school sporadically, and at age 15 he dropped out to work full-time to help support the family.
Benavidez enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in 1952 during the Korean War, In June 1955, he switched from the Army National Guard to Army active duty. In 1959, he married Hilaria Coy Benavidez, completed airborne training, and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
In 1965 he was sent to South Vietnam as an advisor to an ARVN infantry regiment. He stepped on a (Or possibly a grenade thrown at the back of him) 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. 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. Despite continuing pain from his wounds, he returned to South Vietnam in January 1968.
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 assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas where he remained until retirement. 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 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. Benavidez believed that there were no living witnesses of the “Six Hours in Hell.”
Unbeknownst to Benavidez, there was a living witness, who would later provide the eyewitness account necessary: Brian O’Connor, the former radioman of Benavidez’s Special Forces team in Vietnam. O’Connor had been severely wounded (Benavidez had believed him dead), and he was evacuated to the United States before his superiors could fully debrief him.
O’Connor had been living in the Fiji Islands when, in 1980, he was on holiday in Australia. During his holiday O’Connor read a newspaper account of Benavidez from an El Campo newspaper, which had been picked up by the international press and reprinted in Australia. O’Connor immediately contacted Benavidez and submitted a ten-page report of the encounter, confirming the accounts provided by others, and serving as the necessary eyewitness. Benavidez’s Distinguished Service Cross accordingly was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented Roy P. Benavidez with the Medal of Honor in the Pentagon. Reagan turned to the press and said, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it”. In 1983, Benavidez told the press that the Social Security Administration planned to cut off disability payments he had been receiving since his retirement, as well as the disability payments for thousands of other veterans. He went to Capitol Hill and pleaded with the House Select Committee on Aging to abandon their plans, which they finally did.
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.
On May 2, 1968, a 12-man Special Forces patrol which included nine Montagnard tribesmen, was surrounded by a NVA infantry battalion of about 1,000 men. Benavidez heard the radio appeal for help and boarded a helicopter to respond. Armed only with a knife, he jumped from the helicopter carrying his medical bag and ran to help the trapped patrol. Benavidez “distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely valorous 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 other dead in body bags, he was suddenly recognized by a friend who called for help. A doctor came and examined him but believed Benavidez was dead. The doctor was about to zip up the body bag when Benavidez managed to spit in his face, alerting the doctor that he was alive. Benavidez had a total of 37 separate bullet, bayonet, and shrapnel wounds from the six hour fight with the enemy battalion.
BURIAL LOCATION: FORT SAM HOUSTON, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS.
SECTION AI, GRAVE 553
LOCATION OF MEDAL: REAGAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY, SIMI VALLEY, CALIFORNIA ; WHARTON COUNTY MUSEUM, WHARTON, TEXAS.