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6 Hours in Hell: The Incredible Story of Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez in Vietnam

Roy P. Benavidez

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Hispanics have served with honor and loyalty in the U.S. armed forces, there are millions of stories that tell of the bravery and sacrifice of thousands of men and women who have served in the military, but among all the brave Hispanics, one stands out especially for his bravery and sacrifice: Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez.

Benavidez, the son of two Mexicans who migrated to Texas, was a tough man from the beginning. At age 5, his father and mother died of tuberculosis and Roy had to be left in the care of his siblings, along with his grandparents at a very young age. At the age of 15 he had to withdraw from school and began shining boots for a living, a job he would hold until 1952, when he enlisted in the Texas National Guard and was later sent to Korea.

Military life suited Benavidez well and he continued in service after the war, joining the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he would come to the attention of his superiors, who then invited him to take commando training and join the 5th Special Forces Group, under the Army’s Study and Observation Group (SOG).

In 1965, Benavidez, along with other members of the SOG, was deployed to Vietnam to train the South Vietnamese Army. On his first tour, Benavidez stepped on a mine planted by the Vietcong and was seriously wounded.

Roy P. Benavidez - Vietnam war - El American
Benavidez arrived in Vietnam in 1965 to train the South Vietnamese Army. (EFE)

Doctors believed that Benavidez would never walk again, however, people who shared their time in the wards of the military hospital with the sergeant say that Benavidez would escape from his bed at night and crawl on his elbows to the corridor wall, where he would spend entire nights trying to stand up again. In 1966 Benavidez walked out of the hospital hand in hand with his wife, Hilaria Coy Benavidez.

By 1968, Benavidez was ready to return to serve with the SOG in Vietnam and did so, arriving just in time to face the Tet Offensive, where thousands of American soldiers would fall in combat along with their South Vietnamese, Australian and South Korean allies.

On May 2, near the Cambodian border, in the dense jungles of Nihn Binh province, a 12-man Special Forces and 9 Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) reconnaissance group was ambushed by an entire battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. Outnumbered more than 100 to 1, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Wright had no choice but to scream for an evacuation before they were overwhelmed by enemy fire.

Three helicopters were dispatched to rescue the commandos, and three helicopters were turned back by heavy enemy fire. At the base Benavidez assisted one of the gunners of the shot helicopters, who was so badly wounded that he died in his arms.

Such was Benavidez’s frustration at seeing this young man die in his arms and hearing his friends desperately calling for help over the radio, that he went into a state of “autopilot” – as he would later describe it – and climbed into a helicopter that was about to take off to evacuate the troops. So impulsive was Benavidez’s act that he forgot to even carry his rifle; the sergeant had only a bowie knife to face the North Vietnamese.

The Vietnam War put an end to conventional ways of waging war. (EFE)

Al llegar a la zona de extracción, el fuego enemigo era tan intenso que el piloto del helicóptero tuvo que realizar maniobras fuertes para esquivar las balas, por lo que no podía proveer fuego de cobertura.

Upon reaching the extraction zone, the enemy fire was so intense that the helicopter pilot had to maneuver hard to dodge the bullets, so he could not provide cover fire.

Benavidez jumped out of the helicopter with a first aid kit and ran to his comrades, who were lying wounded by the intense fire. The sergeant wasted no time and placed bandages and injected morphine to the wounded, he also dragged those who could not move and placed them in positions where they could take cover from enemy fire, by then Benavidez had been wounded in both legs but the adrenaline hid the pain.

After rescuing the wounded, Benavidez threw a smoke grenade for the helicopters to descend and evacuate the wounded. The North Vietnamese detected the smoke and began to harass the area, so Benavidez took an Ak-47 from a fallen enemy and began to return fire.

Seeing no sign of Sgt. Wright, Benavidez went into the jungle to rescue his friend, only to find him dead. Benavidez attempted to carry his friend’s body to the evacuation zone but was stunned by a grenade explosion, only to receive a bullet in his right side.

When he regained consciousness, he was forced to leave his friend’s body, to return to the evacuation zone, only to find that one of the evacuation helicopters had been shot down. The pilot had died, but 5 men managed to survive.

Benavidez dragged the wounded back, set up a fire perimeter, rescued the helicopter radio and called for support. The air force deployed several planes to spray napalm on the Vietnamese but failed to draw back the enemy.

Once the planes returned to base to refuel, the North Vietnamese resumed their offensive, and began to surround the commandos. At that moment a helicopter with a rescue team arrived and Roy Benavidez helped the wounded into the helicopter.

The Tet Offensive was the most intense attack American forces and their allies received from North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops. (EFE)

The North Vietnamese began to break through the American positions, and Benavidez had to return to provide covering fire. A Vietnamese who managed to cross enemy lines wounded Benavidez with his bayonet, but the battle-hardened sergeant managed to compose himself and rushed his enemy and embedded his bowie knife again and again until he was dead.

Benavidez then killed two more North Vietnamese soldiers and dragged the last colleague to the evacuation helicopters. Once his colleagues were rescued, the sergeant lost consciousness; he had received 37 gunshot, grenade and bayonet wounds, when they arrived at the base he was presumed dead.

President Ronald Reagan decorated Roy P. Benavidez

As the doctor was closing the mortuary bag in which Benavidez’s body had been placed, the sergeant in a last effort spat at the doctor, to which the doctor stated “I think this one will survive”.

Benavidez had fought for 6 hours to save his fellow soldiers and survived.

The wounded sergeant, convalescing in a Tokyo hospital, had rescued 8 people from certain death. He spent a full year recovering. His commanding officer nominated Benavidez to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, as the process to receive a medal of honor was quite lengthy, and he was not sure if Roy would live long enough to receive it.

Despite his serious injuries, Benavidez survived and on January 24, 1981, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan said “if the story of his heroism had been a movie script, no one would have believed it”.

Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez died peacefully on November 29, 1998 at the age of 68.

Economist, writer and liberal. With a focus on finance, the war on drugs, history, and geopolitics // Economista, escritor y liberal. Con enfoque en finanzas, guerra contra las drogas, historia y geopolítica

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