Forces master sergeant Roy Benavidez was the son of a Texas
sharecropper. Orphaned at a young age, quiet and mistaken as slow,
derided as a dumb Mexican by his classmates, he left school in
the eighth grade to work in the cotton fields. He joined the army at
nineteen. On his first tour in Vietnam, in l964, he stepped on a land
mine. Army doctors thought the wound would be permanently crippling.
It was not. He recovered and became a Green Beret.
During his second combat tour, in the early morning of May 2,
1968, in Loc Ninh, Vietnam, Sergeant Benavidez monitored by radio a
twelve-man reconnaissance patrol. Three Green Berets, friends of his,
and nine Montagnard tribesmen had been dropped in the dense jungle west
of Loc Ninh, just inside Cambodia. No man aboard the low-flying
helicopters beating noisily toward the landing zone that morning could
have been unaware of how dangerous the assignment was. Considered an
enemy sanctuary, the area was known to be vigilantly patrolled by a
sizable force of the North Vietnamese army intent on keeping it so.
Once on the ground, the twelve men were almost immediately engaged by
the enemy and soon surrounded by a force that grew to a battalion.
mission had been a mistake, and three helicopters were ordered to
evacuate the besieged patrol. Fierce small arms and antiaircraft fire,
wounding several crew members, forced the helicopters to return to
base. Listening on the radio, Benavidez heard one of his friends
scream, Get us out of here! and, “So much shooting it sounded
like a popcorn machine.” He jumped into one of the returning
helicopters, volunteering for a second evacuation attempt. When he
arrived at the scene, he found that none of the patrol had made it to
the landing zone. Four were already dead, including the team leader,
and the other eight were wounded and unable to move. Carrying a knife
and a medic bag, Benavidez made the sign of the cross, leapt from the
helicopter hovering ten feet off the ground, and ran seventy yards to
his injured comrades. Before he reached them, he was shot in the leg,
face, and head. He got up and kept moving.
When he reached their position, he armed himself with an enemy
rifle, began to treat the wounded, reposition them, distribute
ammunition, and call in air strikes. He threw smoke grenades to
indicate their location and ordered the helicopter pilot to come in
close to pick up the wounded. He dragged four of the wounded aboard,
and then, while under intense fire and returning fire with his captured
weapon, he ran alongside the helicopter as it flew just a few feet off
the ground toward the others. He got the rest of the wounded aboard, as
well as the dead, except for the fallen team leader. As he raced to
retrieve his body, and the classified documents the dead man had
carried, he was shot in the stomach and grenade fragments cut into his
Before he could make his way back toward the helicopter, the
pilot was fatally wounded and the aircraft crashed upside down. He
helped the wounded escape the burning wreckage and organized them in a
defensive perimeter. He called for air strikes and fire from circling
gunships to suppress the ever increasing enemy fire enough to allow
another evacuation attempt. Critically wounded, Benavidez moved
constantly along the perimeter, bringing water and ammunition to the
defenders, treating their wounds, encouraging them to hold on. He
sustained several more gunshot wounds, but he continued to fight. For
When another extraction helicopter landed, he helped the
wounded toward it, one and two at a time. On his second trip, an enemy
soldier ran up behind him and struck him with his rifle butt. Sergeant
Benavidez turned to close with the man and his bayonet and fought him,
hand to hand, to the death. Wounded again, he recovered the rest of his
comrades. As the last were lifted onto the helicopter, he exchanged
more gunfire with the enemy, killing two more Vietnamese soldiers, and
then ran back to collect the classified documents before at last
climbing aboard and collapsing, apparently dead.
The army doctor back at Loc Ninh thought him dead anyway.
Bleeding profusely, his intestines spilling from his stomach wounds,
completely immobile, and unable to speak, Benavidez was placed into a
body bag. As the doctor began to pull up the zipper on the black
shroud, Roy Benavidez spit in his face. They flew him to Saigon for
surgery, where he began a year in hospitals recovering from seven
serious gunshot wounds, twenty-eight shrapnel wounds, and bayonet wounds
in both arms.
believe what this one man did. And why?
The best definition I have ever heard was explained by Senator
John McClean in his book Why Courage Matters. A book, I feel,
every veteran should have.