Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
Master Sergeant Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez spent his adolescence working a series of odd jobs in Cuero, TX before enlisting in the National Guard in 1952. He would later join the Army and earn his Green beret before being deployed to Vietnam. It was here that he earned the Medal of Honor for risking his own life to rescue wounded soldiers and recover the body of a fallen soldier and the classified information he was carrying.
You can find Benavidez’s autobiographical books about his experiences here:
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Master Sergeant Roy Perez Benavidez was born on August 5th, 1935, in Cuero, Texas. By the time he was 7 years old, both of his parents had died of tuberculosis. Roy and his brother Roger moved in with their extended family in El Campo, Texas. Benavidez dropped out of school at 15, working as a shoe shiner, farmhand, and at a tire shop.
In 1952, Benavidez enlisted in the Texas National Guard and in 1955, he went active duty in the Army. In 1959, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and later earned his green beret, joining the 5th Special Forces Group.
In 1965, Benavidez deployed to Vietnam, acting as an advisor for a Vietnamese infantry regiment. While deployed, he stepped on a landmine and was evacuated back to the United States to recover. Medical personnel believed he would never walk again, however Benavidez trained himself to walk again at night. Despite the lingering pain, Benavidez recovered and was discharged from the hospital in July 1966, and returned to Vietnam less than two years later.
On May 2nd, 1968, Benavidez was part of a mission to rescue a Special Forces recon patrol, overwhelmed by a North Vietnamese Army infantry battalion. As the patrol radioed for help, three helicopters attempted extraction but were repelled by enemy fire.
Despite only having a knife and a medical bag, Benevidez boarded the next helicopter sent to rescue his comrades. He ferried the dead and wounded patrol back and forth between the patrol’s position and the helicopter, despite taking wounds to the leg, face, and head. When Benavidez recovered the patrol leader’s body and classified information, he was shot in the abdomen and took grenade shrapnel to the back. At the same time, the pilot was killed and the helicopter crashed. Benavidez and the survivors formed a hasty perimeter around the wreckage, and held out by directing close air support against increasing NVA forces.
As another helicopter landed to extract them, Benavidez was wounded again and killed three NVA soldiers, one of whom bayoneted him. He boarded the aircraft last after all the wounded and dead had been loaded. Upon returning to base, Benavidez was misidentified as dead and placed in a body bag. Before the bag was closed, Benavidez spit on the doctor to let him know he was alive.
Benavidez was evacuated stateside, having endured 37 wounds. His actions saved eight lives and he was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and four Purple Hearts. In 1973, a Special Forces officer pushed to get Benavidez the Medal of Honor, requiring a congressional exemption and eyewitness testimony due to the amount of time that had passed.
On February 24th, 1981, Benavidez received the Medal of Honor from President Reagan at the Pentagon. His other awards included six Purple Hearts, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Benavidez retired from the Army in 1976, and returned to his hometown of El Campo, authoring three books on his experiences. He was married to Hilaria Coy Benavidez, and had three children. In 1998, Benavidez passed away from respiratory failure.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our associate producer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.