The son of a Texas sharecropper and was part Yaqui Native American and part Mexican, young Benavidez grew up an orphan, poor, and dropped out of school in the 7th grade. He was labeled a ‘dumb Mexican’ through his early years.
He enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1952 and 3 years later moved to the Regular Army. He married, joined the 82nd Airborne Division and was jump qualified. He later went into Special Forces training and was accepted into the 5th Special Forces Group and Studies and Observation Group SOG.
In '65 he was sent to South Vietnam serving as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army and stepped on a land mine during a patrol and medical evacuated to the States. The doctors there determined that he would never walk again, but Benavidez showed them by conducting his own physical therapy at night to regain his ability to walk by crawling on his elbows and chin to a wall beside his bed, he would prop himself up against the wall and try to lift himself without physical assistance, but was cheered on by his fellow patients. It took a year of painful exercise, but in July '66 Benavidez walked out of the hospital, yes-walked, with his wife beside him and requested to be sent back to Vietnam.
It was granted in January '68.
On 2 May of that year, a 12-man Special Forces patrol comprised of 9 loyal Montagnards and 3 American leaders were engaged and quickly surrounded by an estimated 1,000 North Vietnamese Army soldiers. Hearing their frantic calls on the radio for help Benavidez ran for the helicopter and climbed on board armed only with a knife.
The landing zone was hot, but he’ realized that all the patrol members were either dead or wounded and unable to make it to the helicopter and ordered his helicopter to a nearby opening and jumped into it with a medical bag to take care of the wounded. So began a six-hour firefight. In his run to make it to the casualties Benavidez was wounded in the leg, face and head by enemy fire, but he doggedly continued, found the team members and rallied them to keep fighting to hold the enemy at bay to allow a medevac to occur.
He took smoke grenades and hurled them at the enemy in the tree line to direct close air support. When a helicopter came in, Benavidez picked up and carried off 6 of the patrol one by one to the helicopter. When they were on board he took a rifle and ran with the helicopter as it flew along towards where the other members were giving protecting fire from the NVA. When the patrol leader was killed, Benavidez managed to reach his body and recover classified materials, but was wounded again by enemy fire in the abdomen and shrapnel in his back. At that moment, the helicopter that was about to save them all was hit, the pilot killed, and it crashed into the LZ.
Benavidez ran back to the wreckage and pulled the dead and wounded and the others from it and set up a perimeter giving them hope with encouraging words and distributing ammo and water. The enemy fire was intense with automatic weapons and grenades coming from all sides. Using a radio, Benavidez began calling in close air support with gunship runs to allow another rescue attempt. He was hit again by a bullet through his thigh while dressing a wounded man.
A second helicopter came in to take them and the sergeant began taking them onboard, after taking one man and was carrying another, an NVA popped out and clubbed the sergeant in the head. Benavidez grappled with the enemy soldier and stabbed him in the head with his knife with enough force that it became stuck in the soldier’s head and couldn’t be removed.
When the last of the wounded were on board the sergeant saw two NVA rushing the helicopter, but the door gunners couldn’t engage them. Taking a rifle he gunned them both down. He made one last run around to gather and destroy the last of the classified material before boarding the helicopter. It was here when his adrenaline stopped and the serious nature of his wounds became known.
He received 37 puncture wounds, his intestines were out of his body, blinded by blood, a broken jaw, and shrapnel in his back he was thought to be dead with the helicopter touched down at base. He was pronounced dead by a doctor when he couldn’t feel a heartbeat, but the sergeant showed him by spitting in the doctor’s face. He recovered from his many injuries, but he wasn’t awarded the Medal of Honor. Instead, he was given the Distinguished Service Cross.
His friends clambered for this to be addressed, but Congress declared that too much time had passed and they needed eye witnesses to his actions. In 1980, Benavidez’s radioman, Brian O'Conner, provided a 10 page testimony about the firefight and was severely wounded in the same fight and thought to have died from his wounds, but he was alive and saw the news report on the news while vacationing in Australia. With his testimony the Review Board upgraded the Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor. On 24 February 1981 President Ronald Reagan bestowed the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez to go with his other medals including;
5 Purple Hearts
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal
Army Commendation Medal
Good Conduct Medal with one silver and one bronze service loop
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with four campaign stars
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Presidential Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
Texas Legislative Medal of Honor
Combat Infantry Badge
Master Parachutist Badge
Army Special Forces Tab.
Not bad for a 'Dumb Mexican’.