During a visit to Fort Sam Cemetery in San Antonio, we paused to honor a fellow Texan who lays in internment there. I’ve heard more than a few people deem him as one of the most badass men that ever lived.
In 1965, Roy Benavidez stepped on a land mine during a patrol in Vietnam and was evacuated to the United States.
Doctors in San Antonio told Benavidez that he would never walk again and began preparing his medical discharge papers.
I wanted to go back to Vietnam because of what the news media was saying about us: that our presence was not needed there; they’re burning the flag….
He defied what doctors said and fought to walk again.
“I come from a little town named Cuero, Texas,” he told a crowd in 1991. “I was born there, the ‘turkey capital of the world.’ After the death of my mother and father, at an early age, my brother and I were adopted by an aunt and uncle.”
“We moved to El Campo, town southwest of Houston, about an hour and a half. I was raised there. I went to school there. I worked at odd jobs there — shined shoes, sold papers, picked cottons. And like a fool, I dropped out of school and I ran away from home. I’m not proud of that.”
“I needed to learn a skill. I needed an education. My adoptive father would tell me, ‘Son, an education and a diploma is the key to success. Bad habits and bad company will ruin you.’”
Benavidez joined the Texas National Guard and later, “the regular army. I needed to have education and learn a skill.”
Later, as a Green Beret, he noted that, “we in the Special Forces are trained to operate deep behind enemy lines with little or no support at all. We are trained in five specialties. I’m trained in three: operations and intelligence, where I learned oceanography, meteorology, and photography. I’m an interrogator and I’m a linguist. I’m trained in light and heavy weapons and cross-trained as a medic.”
When doctors said he would never walk again, “at night I would slip out of bed and crawl to a wall using my elbows and my chin. My back would just be killing me and I’d be crying, but I get to the wall and I set myself against the wall and I’d back myself up against the wall and I’d stand there — like Kaw-Liga, the Indian. I’d stand and move my toes, right and left…every single chance I got — I got. And I wanted to walk — I wanted to go back to Vietnam because of what the news media was saying about us: that our presence was not needed there; they’re burning the flag….”
“And I remember in my Special Forces training, one of the training missions that I was on, I remembered that my leader would tell me, “Faith, determination, and a positive attitude. A positive attitude will carry you further than ability. You can do it, Benavidez. You can do it.” I never forgot those three words. Never. So there I was at night: slip out of bed; the nurses would catch me sometimes; they would chew me out, give me a pill, sleeping pill, put me to sleep. They would tell the doctors in the morning. I was determined to walk.”
“Nine months later, here comes my medical discharge papers. And I told the doctor, “Doctor, look what I can do.”
“Sergeant, I’m sorry,” the doctor replied. “Even if you can stand up, you’ll never be able to walk.”
Benavidez jumped out of bed and stood up right before him. His back was hurting, aching, and began crying. He moved just a little bit.
The doctor said, “Benavidez, if you walked out of this room, I’ll tear these papers up.”
He walked out.
“I walked out of that ward at Beach Pavilion,” Benavidez recalled. “I walked out with a limp. I went back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I started my therapy again, running 5 miles or 10 miles a day, doing 50 to 100 pushups; and I made three parachute jumps in one day. I was ready to go back to Vietnam, physically and mentally ready to go back.”
The latter part of April, 1968 in Vietnam, Benavidez and his buddy were instructed to gather intelligence information behind enemy lines.
“And after two days on the ground, my buddy was shot through the eye, the back, the legs. Our mission was complete but I didn’t want to leave my buddy behind. I called in for an extraction helicopter to come and get us out.”
The helicopter dropped McGuire rig (nylon ropes with hooks) down to them.
“We hooked on — the enemy was firing at us. We pulled up — going up through the canopy of the jungle, our ropes started to twist and rub. You know nylon, it burns when it rubs.”
“As we cleared the canopy, our ropes were completely twisted and rubbing. And there was a non-commissioned officer that looked out of the helicopter — he was riding [unclear]. And when he saw those two ropes burning, he immediately tied himself with a piece of rope around his waist and he pulled himself out of the helicopter and undid those two ropes, separated them. That’s dedication. That’s love of fellow man and country. I’ll never forget that man. And the enemy was still firing at us but they never shot us. We landed — We landed in a safe spot. My buddy was taken to the hospital. Shortly, thereafter, he expired.”
On May, 2 1968 during the Vietnam War, there was an operation to save his wounded comrades. Because they were wounded, they couldn’t move to the helicopter, a designated pickup zone.
Benavidez jumped from the hovering helicopter some 30 feet above the ground and ran 250 feet under heavy small arms fire to the team. His only weapon was a knife.
While he was running to his comrades, he was wounded on his right leg, face and head.
“We saw a helicopter coming in to land and had a door gunner slumped over the weapon. When the helicopter landed, I unstrapped the door gunner.”
It was Michael Craig.
“We just celebrated his 19th birthday in March,” Benavidez said. “I cradled him in my arms and his last words were, ‘My God, my mother and father.’”
When he reached the team, Benavidez was severely wounded by small arms fire in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. Later, the aircraft pilot was fatally wounded and his helicopter crashed.
Although he was critically wounded, Benavidez secured the classified documents and made his way back to the ruins of the helicopter, where he aided the wounded out of the aircraft and gathered shocked survivors into a defensive formation. Under heavy fire, he moved around the squad and distributed water and ammunition to the men.
“I engaged in a hand-to-hand combat. I was hit in the mouth with the butt of a weapon. My jaws were locked. After my last return back to the helicopter when I was boarded on, I was holding my intestines in my hand.”
“We lifted up. The helicopter had over its payload. Blood was running on both sides of the helicopter.”
“When we landed, they locked me in a staging area and started unloading, started identifying the bodies. They found out I loaded three dead enemy soldiers in that helicopter…”
“…and because I sort of looked oriental, they thought I was one of them so they let me lay right next to them; and they were putting us in body bags. And I remember my feet being lifted, and I was inserted into the body bag, and I hear that zipper coming up and I was ‘Oh, my God, no, no.’ My eyes were shut because I had blood all over my face. My eyes and the blood had dried up in my eyelids. And I couldn’t talk because my jaws were locked. And I could hear that zipper coming up, coming up. And one of my buddies was doing the Mexican hat dance and he was yelling at the doctor, ‘That’s Roy, that’s Roy Benavidez!’ Doctor said, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do for him.’”
“Oh my God. The zipper is just coming up — I was trying to wiggle in my own blood. And finally — I found out later — Jerry Cottingham made that doctor at least to feel my heartbeat. When I felt that hand on my chest, I made the luckiest shot I ever made in my life. I spit in the doctor’s face. So the doctor said, ‘I think he’ll make it.’”
“So, I — I was cleaned up, put on a helicopter alongside with my buddy — one of the guys that I had saved. We got airborne. I just said to myself, Hold on buddy. Just hold on. We’re going to get some medical attention.”
“And his grip tightened up on me. And then he let go. I was “Oh God, why do you put me through this test? Why? You helped me get these men out, save[d] them, saved this material; and now you take them away from me. Why?” And I was crying.”
“I was moving so much that the co-pilot, he happened to look back and he thought that I was gasping for air so he gets out of his seat, get[s] his bayonet out, and he was going to do a trache on me, and I am about to kick him out of the helicopter. That’s just too much for one day.”
They finally landed at a hospital in Long Binh and he was wheeled into the operating room.
“As I was being lifted to my operating table, I saw this nurse on her hands and knees, crying, yelling, asking God, ‘Why do you this to these men? Why?’ Just crying.”
“And I turned a little bit to my left, I saw in the other operating table a man that had both legs and both arms missing. I passed out.”
“I woke up in the ward. One of my buddies was laying next to me. We were so bandaged up. We couldn’t talk. We used to wiggle our toes to make sure that we were still alive. After a short while, my buddy was transferred from there and I thought that he had died.”
“I was transferred to Japan, Tachikawa. In that airplane that I was flying in MedEvac, we lost two men. And I remember this nurse kept yelling at me: ‘Benavidez, you’re not going to die on me. I’m going to pinch you every time you close your eyes. I am going to pinch you. I am going to pinch you.’ Boy, she kept pinching me.”
“When I got to Tachikawa, when I got to Japan, and they wheeled me into the operating room, they just rolled me again. I remember the doctor — I heard him say, ‘What in the world happened to you?’”
“I had blue spots, red spots all over me. And I said, ‘That lady kept pinching me up there.’“
“So after — I went to back Fort Sam, Houston, Beach Pavilion and I stayed in that hospital almost a year. I continued with my career.”
“A lot of people call me a hero. I appreciate the title but the real heroes are the ones that gave their life for this country. The real heroes are our wives and our mothers. Above all, the heroes are the ones that are laying in those hospitals, disabled for life in those hospital beds. But the real heroes are the future leaders of our country, the students that are staying in school and learning to say no drugs. Those are our real heroes.”
“You know, there’s a saying among us veterans: ‘For those who have fought for it, life has a special flavor the protected will never know.’ You have never lived ’til you almost died. And it is us veterans that pray for peace, most of all, especially the wounded because we have to suffer the wounds of war.”
“I’m asked hundreds of times: Would you do it over again? In my 25 years in the military, I feel like I’ve been overpaid for the service to my country. There will never be enough paper to print the money nor enough gold in Fort Knox for me to have to keep from doing what I did. I’m proud to be an American; and even prouder — and I’m even prouder that I’ve earned the privilege to wear the Green Beret. I live by the motto of Duty, Honor, Country.”
Please Support These Patriotic American Owned Businesses