Roy P. Benavidez
El Campo, Texas
When President Ronald Reagan awarded Texan Roy Benavidez the nation’s highest honor, he told reporters that if the hero’s script were a Hollywood screenplay they wouldn’t believe it.
Born in Lindenau, Benavidez was the son of a sharecropper who endured racism because of his mixed Yacqui Indian and Mexican heritage. Orphaned as a young child, he dropped out of school in seventh grade and worked in his teens as a migrant farmworker before joining the United States Army in 1955.
In 1965, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, Benavidez stepped on a land mine during a patrol and was evacuated to the United States, where doctors at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio believed he would never walk again. Defying both his prognosis and significant pain, Benavidez forced himself back onto his feet and soon returned to Fort Bragg, where he became a member of the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces and, once again, went to Vietnam.
On May 2, 1968, a U.S. Special Forces team of twelve men found themselves surrounded by a North Vietnamese Army battalion. Hearing their pleas for help over the radio, Benavidez jumped on a Huey helicopter bound for the area. He carried no weapon other than a hastily grabbed Bowie knife, and when the aircraft arrived, jumped off with the knife and a medical bag to assist his imperiled fellow soldiers.
Six hours later, Benavidez had suffered 37 bayonet, shrapnel and bullet wounds in the process of fighting his way through the withering battle to save at least eight men. With nearly superhuman strength and valor, the intrepid Texan was shot, clubbed, stabbed, hit with grenades and so comprehensively wounded that he was zipped into a body bag when finally evacuated. He survived.
Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on February 24, 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. A father of three, he dedicated much of his time after retirement from the Army to educating young people about the importance of education. Roy Benavidez died in San Antonio in 1998.
Texas hero Roy Benavidez’ life story is shared in numerous books and articles and the Texas Vietnam War hero is honored by a number of facilities and institutions, including schools, named for him. Mike Scovell’s bronze sculpture of the formidable hero stands on State Highway 77 in Cuero, just across from Cuero High School. In 2007 the Benavidez family donated his papers to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas.