April 26, 2023

Profiles of Valor: MSgt Roy P. Benavidez

Call sign “Tango Mike Mike” — “That Mean Mexican”!

On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to Army Master Sergeant Raul “Roy” P. Benavidez, a special operations legend.

Benavidez was a Texas native. His father was a Mexican-born American farmer and his mother a Yaqui Native American. Both parents died of tuberculosis before he reached age eight. He and his brother were adopted by an uncle in El Campo, Texas. He worked hard as a field laborer and missed months of school in the years before he turned 15, when he dropped out of school. He deeply regretted not finishing high school. At 18, he joined the Texas National Guard and three years later transitioned to active duty with the Army.

He served in the demilitarized zone after the Korean War and later was transferred to Germany, where he aspired to earn his jump wings and join the 82nd Airborne Division. He did just that, and in October 1964 he was among the first troops sent to Vietnam, a place most Americans at the time could not find on a map.

In 1965 while on patrol, he stepped on and triggered a land mine, suffering severe injuries. He survived and began a long recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The blast restricted his memory and he despaired the prospect of being wheelchair-bound given his resulting paralyzation. Each night after lights out, he would leave his bed and crawl the floors to recover strength and coordination. Despite all the odds, with a year of determined efforts to recover, he had done so. Over that time he read field manuals used in the Special Warfare School, intent on earning a Special Forces slot once he had gotten his jump status restored.

Four years after almost losing his life, MSgt Benavidez was back in Vietnam as a Special Forces NCO. His second tour was in Loc Ninh province. His men greatly admired him, and they gave him the field call sign “Tango Mike Mike” for “That Mean Mexican”!

On May 2, 1968, he heard a radio call that a 12-man SF sniper team monitoring enemy troop movements in the jungle was pinned down by what seemed an entire NVA battalion. “Get us out of here!” one of the SF team screamed. “For God’s sake, get us out!”

Three helicopter attempts at extraction were unsuccessful. As a fourth attempt was about to launch, he quickly boarded, saying, “I’m coming with you!” In his haste he left behind his M-16. Once over the area, it became clear how dire the danger was. Four soldiers had been killed, and the other eight were in two groups, all wounded and pinned down. Once on the ground, Roy immediately took an AK-47 round to his left leg. It was the first of 37 hits he would take in the six hours of combat required to complete the extraction.

Despite his serious wounds, he continued to retrieve the wounded and dead and get them to the evacuation zone — engaging and killing enemy combatants throughout it all to protect his team and the helicopter. He repeatedly called in F-4 Phantoms “danger close” to drop incendiary bombs in order to suppress enemy fire. Despite 37 wounds, he made one final pass of the perimeter to ensure no man was left behind.

After boarding his extraction Huey, one soldier asked, “Are you hurt bad, Sarge?” Roy responded: “Hell no. I’ve been hit so many times I don’t care anymore.” He laid against another badly wounded soldier tending to his wounds despite the fact his own eyes were so caked with blood he could hardly see, and he could not speak because his jaw was broken.

Arriving back at base and moved to triage, a friend recognized him and yelled: “That’s Benavidez! Get a doc!” The doctor was unable to detect a heartbeat and a second doctor pronounced Benavidez dead, saying, “There’s nothing I can do for him.” While being transferred to a body bag, Roy turned his head enough to spit at one of his handlers to ensure they understood he was NOT dead. Startled, the doctor said, “He won’t make it, but we’ll try.”

“Tango Mike Mike”!

As you have likely assumed, Roy was a deeply faithful man. His daughter proclaims: “The Benavidez family was, and still is, deeply rooted by their faith. My father never wavered in his faith. In fact, it was his love and trust in God that kept him going.”

His Medal of Honor citation concludes, “His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.”

On presentation of his Medal, President Reagan said, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.” Responding in the humility that typifies all genuine heroes, Roy said of his actions: “The real heroes are the ones who gave their lives for their country. I don’t like to be called a hero. I just did what I was trained to do.”

I encourage you to listen to Roy talk about his mission and love of country and recite one of the most patriotic poems ever written. You can read the full account of his service in his book, Medal of Honor: A Vietnam Warrior’s Story.

Asked, “Would you do it all over again?” Roy responded: “There will never be enough paper to print the money or enough gold in Fort Knox for me to have to keep me from doing what I did. I’m proud to be an American and even prouder that I earned the privilege to wear the Green Beret. I live by the motto: Duty, Honor, Country.”

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

(Please consider a designated gift to support the National Medal of Honor Sustaining Fund through Patriot Foundation Trust, or make a check payable to Liberty Fund (noting MoH Sustaining Fund on the memo line), and mail it to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407.)

Join us in prayer for our Patriots in uniform and their families — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen — standing in harm’s way, and for our nation’s First Responders.

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