This Green Beret Suffered 37 Wounds On A Rescue Mission – But Epically He Refused To Stop Fighting

Image: via Wikimedia Commons / Nr. CC-45142, Earl A. Young IV, U.S. Army Center of Military History
It’s May 2, 1968, and a patrol of 12 U.S. Special Forces men are in deadly trouble near a place called Loc Ninh in southern Vietnam. They’re surrounded by thick jungle and up to 1,000 North Vietnamese Army soldiers and they’re under sustained attack. The only way to get them out is by helicopter. Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez jumps aboard the rescue chopper. Little does he know that ahead of him lies six hours of hell on Earth.
Image: via YouTube/Medal of Honor Foundation
Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez was born in August 1935 in Lindenau, Texas. His Mexican American father Salvador was a sharecropper and his mother Teresa Perez was a Yaqui Indian. Both Benavidez’s parents died prematurely from tuberculosis – Salvador when Benavidez was two and Teresa five years later. Roy was raised by relatives in El Campo, Texas.
Image: via YouTube/Medal of Honor Foundation
Benavidez dropped out of school at just 15 years old to help take care of his poverty-stricken family. After a series of menial jobs including farm laboring and shoe shining, he joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1952 when he was 17. In 1955 Benavidez signed up with the U.S. Army and saw service in both occupied Germany and in South Korea.
The young soldier took airborne training, completing it in 1959 and then joining the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 82nd Airborne Division. Now Benavidez started more training, this time for the Army Special Forces and subsequently was posted to the 5th Special Forces Group. Benavidez had now earned the right to wear the coveted Green Beret.
Benavidez arrived in Vietnam in 1965 as a consultant to South Vietnam’s American-backed army in its war with the Communists of North Vietnam. This tour of duty ended badly with Benavidez stepping on a landmine and sustaining serious damage to his spine. Back in the U.S. his doctors believed Benavidez would never walk again.
But the young soldier had different ideas. Not walking again just wasn’t an acceptable future as far as he was concerned. Defying his doctors, Benavidez started his own late-night rehabilitation program. He would crawl from his sickbed to a wall where he’d lever himself up until he was upright. The pain was so agonizing that he was often in tears. But in 1966, the tough-as-nails soldier walked out of hospital.
And by January 1968, Benavidez had recovered enough, albeit often in pain, to return to active service in Vietnam with his old unit, the 5th Special Forces Group. Not long after his second tour in Vietnam started, things were to get extremely hectic for the dedicated soldier.
Image: Icemanwcs
It was a Thursday, half a century ago – May 2, 1968 – when things kicked off. As we saw earlier, a 12-man platoon was trapped in dense jungle and surrounded by a hugely superior force of North Vietnamese soldiers. The 12 men were a Special Forces Reconnaissance Team.
Image: via Wikimedia Commons
The team consisted of three Americans and nine Montagnard, the indigenous people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. U.S. Special Forces had trained some of the Montagnard in guerrilla warfare and they were highly respected for their well-developed tracking abilities. Eventually some 40,000 of them fought side by side with the Americans.
Image: AFP/Getty Images
A rescue mission involving three helicopters was launched to extract the Reconnaissance Team but none of the choppers could land because of fierce anti-aircraft fire. When they returned to base, another helicopter readied itself for a second rescue attempt. Benavidez had been monitoring the situation via radio. He grabbed a medical kit and a knife and jumped aboard the chopper just before it took off.
Image: U.S. Army/Getty Images
Benavidez figured that the Special Forces men were all likely dead or injured and not physically capable of getting to the chopper’s landing zone. So, equipped only with a knife and a medical pack, he launched himself from the low-flying helicopter and sprinted over 80 yards to the mens’ position. During that run, Benavidez was wounded three times by the intense enemy fire. He was hit in the head, face and right leg.
Image: Keystone/Getty Images
Despite his wounds, Benavidez quickly took control of things, getting the men into a defensive formation and setting off smoke canisters to show the rescue chopper where to find them. Still under heavy fire, Benavidez now dragged or carried the wounded men to the helicopter, while at the same time providing covering fire for the chopper.
Image: Keystone/Getty Images
Realizing that the team leader, who had been killed, would have highly sensitive documents on his person, Benavidez now ran to his body to recover them. Reaching the body, the determined soldier was hit yet again by fierce enemy fire. This time, he suffered grenade shrapnel injuries to his back and took a bullet to the abdomen.
Image: AFP/Getty Images
And as if things weren’t grim enough, the pilot of the rescue helicopter had been killed and the chopper now crashed to the ground with the wounded Special Forces men aboard. Somehow, Benavidez, himself seriously injured, struggled to the crashed aircraft and began pulling the men out of it.
Image: Keystone/Getty Images
Benavidez now rallied the injured and exhausted soldiers. He called in air strikes so that another rescue attempt could be mounted. Before that help arrived Benavidez was wounded again in the leg. Eventually, a chopper was able to land and now Benavidez busied himself with helping to load the wounded men aboard.
Image: Express Newspapers/Getty Images
As Benavidez helped to gather the wounded for evacuation, a North Vietnamese soldier attacked him from behind. Now in a face-to-face fight with his enemy, Benavidez took yet more wounds before being able to dispatch the soldier. He now shot two more of the enemy as they approached the chopper.
Image: Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images
Incredibly, despite being severely wounded and rapidly losing blood, Benavidez made one final sortie to ensure that no secret documents had been left behind and to collect the last of the wounded troops. Only after that was the man on a mission prepared to accept his own rescue and he clambered into the helicopter. His undiluted heroism had saved the lives of eight men.
Image: Terry Fincher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Benavidez was in a bad way. In fact, back at base camp, a medic had decided that he was actually dead and was in the process of zipping the soldier into a body bag. By now Benavidez was so completely drained that there was only one way that he could alert the doctor to the fact that he was not dead. He spat in the man’s face. The medic got the message.
The catalog of Benavidez’s wounds from the six-hour battle was extraordinary and horrifying. There were 28 shrapnel injuries, seven bullet wounds and bayonet lacerations to both arms. There was scarcely a single part of his body left unscathed. The heroic serviceman spent nearly a year recuperating in various hospitals.
Image: Ron Hall, US Air Force
Master Sergeant Benavidez stayed with the army until his retirement in 1976. He’d been awarded various decorations for his outstanding bravery, but not the highest award of all, the Medal of Honor. That requires an eyewitness, and none could be found. Eventually, one was tracked down in Fiji. And finally, in 1981, President Reagan himself presented Benavidez with his richly deserved Medal of Honor. This incredible man authored three books and was a popular inspirational speaker until his death in 1998 aged 63.

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