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A Medal For Roy Benavidez

"A MEDAL FOR ROY BENAVIDEZ" BY: WILLIAM A. LOWTHER
 
The White House, February 24, 1981, 12:55 P.M. President Reagan stands in front of the fireplace, with Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, in Uniform, to his right. "Can't we bring the Family in here?" the President says. Benavidez's Wife, Hilaria, steps forward with their Three Children.
"Nancy, Cap, come on," Reagan urges his Wife and Secretary of Defense Casper W. Weinberger. Turning to the pool of Reporters, the President says, "You are going to hear something you would not believe if it were a script. Wait until you hear the citation."
The citation, to be read by the President later at a Pentagon Ceremony, describes Benavidez's "conspicuous gallantry in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the Call of Duty." -From the Notes of Reporter Gilbert Lewthwaite, Baltimore Sun
 
Loc Ninh, Vietnam, May 2, 1968, 1:30 P.M. The Chaplain had spread a White Altar Cloth over the hood of a Jeep, and a small band of battle-weary American Soldiers stood in a semicircle before it, their heads bowed in Prayer. Among them was Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez. The Son of a Texas Sharecropper, he had enlisted in the Army 13 years before, at the age of 19, and was now a well-seasoned Member of the Fifth Special Forces Group(Airborne).
The Prayers were suddenly interrupted by helicopter pilots running by and the cries of chaos coming over the Shortwave Radio in a nearby tent: "Get us out of here. For God's sake, get us out!" The sound of automatic gunfire filled the background.
"There was so much shouting," Benavidez said later, "it sounded like a popcorn machine."
Within moments a helicopter pilot was racing back to the takeoff pad. Benavidez, who was waiting for a Mission Assignment, ran after the pilot.
As the two men reached the pad, a helicopter was coming in, its fuselage bullet-ridden, a side door hanging open, with the gunner slumped forward. Benavidez eased him out and watched helplessly as the Man died in his arms.
Screaming to be heard over the roar of the chopper's engines, Benavidez asked who was out there. A 12-Man Special Forces Team, he was told, one he had often worked with. Comrades. They had been dropped several hours before to check reports of Enemy Troop Movement and had found themselves in the middle of a North Vietnamese Army Battalion.
A co-pilot, a crew chief and a replacement door gunner arrived to take the helicopter back for another rescue attempt. Benavidez climbed into the crew compartment. "What are you doing!" yelled the pilot. "I'm coming with you," replied Benavidez.
From the air they could see dozens of North Vietnamese foxholes pockmarking the area. Sniper platforms had been built at treetop level. Right in the middle were the Americans. They had formed a small circle in dense jungle cover, near a clearing where the helicopter was supposed to pick them up. Enemy Soldiers were not more than 25 Yards away at some points.
The chopper swooped low and was met by withering small-arms fire. It couldn't stay down long enough to get the Team out. But there was another clearing about 75 Yards away from which no Enemy Fire was coming.
"Over there, over there," Benavidez urged the pilot. When the chopper reached the clearing, it hovered about ten feet from the ground and Benavidez jumped.
He landed on his feet and started running. After covering about 20 Yards, he was shot in the right Leg. Bowled over by the bullet, he fell, but was up in an instant and kept moving.
"When you're shot, you feel a burning pain. Like you've been touched with hot metal," Benavidez recalled later. "But the fear that you experience is worse-and that's what keeps you going."
A hand grenade exploded in front of him. Shrapnel tore into his face, narrowly missing his eyes. Again he fell, and again he got up and ran. Bleeding profusely and in terrible pain, he staggered into the broken circle of his Comrades, an unlikely-looking savior.
 
A Jungle Clearing, Vietnam, May 2, 1968, 2:15 P.M. Benavidez found 8 of the 12 Men still alive, all wounded. He told them to provide covering fire for the helicopter. When it swooped in again, he ordered the Men out to meet it.
As they began moving, he spotted the body of the Team Leader. Dangling from the Dad Man's Neck was a pouch containing Classifited Papers with call signs and radio codes. It had to be recovered. He removed the pouch and slipped it into his shirt.
He pushed the Men into the clearing. One had been hit in the face and had a bandage over his eyes. "Hang on to my neck," Benavidez ordered him. He half-carried another Soldier, who had been shot in the legs. Another who had been hit in the stomach didn't want to move. Benavidez shouted and cursed and got all the wounded moving.
Under fire they reached the Chopper, and Benavidez guided the Men on board. Then he ran back to retrieve the body of the Team Leader-and was shot in the back. He pitched over in a somersault, landing flat on the ground. O Lord, not here. Please, God, don't let me die here. His head was filled with ringing bells. His body felt as if it was burning with fever. One leg seemed paralyzed.
At that moment, the helicopter pilot was killed. The chopper, which had been hovering just off the ground, crashed and tipped over. Benavidez rallied the survivors, including an injured door gunner, and led them back into the jungle. The other gunner had been killed, and the co-pilot, after freeing himself from the wreckage, joined Benavidez's group.
The Men slumped down into a hollow. Wood flew everywhere as Enemy Bullets cut into the Trees around them. A chorus of moaning and crying rose from this bloody band, and Benavidez, fearing the Enemy would hear, ordered them to shut up. He opened a First-Aid Kit and gave several of them Morphine. He gave himself Two Inections. Then he used the radio to direct air support from jets and gunships, hoping to suppress Enemy Fire long enough to allow another helicopter to land.
"Are you hit bad, Sarge?" one of the Men asked Benavidez.
"Hell, no," Benavidez drawled. "I been hit so many times I don't give a darn no more." Then one of the Men was hit in the heel by a bullet, and Benavidez knew they had been spotted. It was get out now-or never.
"Please leave me here, Sarge," one Man pleaded. "I can't make it." While giving him First Aid, Benavidez took another bullet in the thigh.
A helicopter arrived. Benavidez ordered everyone up. "We don't have permission to stay," he shouted. "We don't have permission to die. Pray and move out."
Under cover from the helicopter gunners, with the Soldier wounded in the stomach on one side and the injured door gunner on the other, Benavidez staggered into the clearing. He put them aboard the chopper and went back for the others. As he bent over another wounded Man, Benavidez was suddenly struck in the back of the head by a Rifle Butt.
He fell, but instinctively rolled over and bounced to his feet. He stood facing a North Vietnamese Soldier, who rushed at him with his Bayonet. Benavidez grabbed it, cutting his hand wide open. While pulling the Soldier toward him, he drew out his belt knife with his other hand and stabbed him.
Now he was covered with blood, hurting badly and screaming, and beginning to lose his sense. Most of his Men were up and moving. Somehow summoning a last reserve of strength, Benavidez picked up two of the weaker ones and started toward the chopper. As he drew near, he saw Two Enemy Soldiers crawling toward the chopper where the door gunners couldn't see them. He scooped up a nearby rifle and shot both. One of the door gunners, confused by what was happening, swung his gun around at Benavidez, thinking the Sergeant was a North Vietnamese Soldier who was shooting at him. The pilot shouted to the gunner just in time.
After getting the men on board, Benavidez made one last sweep of the perimeter, looking for injured Soldiers and Classified Material. Finally, he pulled himself aboard and passed out.
When the helicopter put down at Loc Ninh, a Doctor took one look and said, "there's nothing I can do for him."
Benavidez heard the words, opened his eyes and, unable to speak, defiantly spit at the Doctor.
 
The Congress, November 21, 1980, 1:30 P.M. The House Military Personnel Subcommittee considered a bill to exempt Roy Benavidez from the time limit on Awarding Medals for Heroism.
Benavidez had received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Nation's Second-highest Award for Valor, in 1968. But Five Years later, when Lt. Col. Ralph R. Drake, the Special Forces Mission Commander, learned more details of Benavidez's actions, he decided to recommend him for the highest Award, The Medal of Honor. The recommendation was at first rejected for lack of new and substantive information, and by the time that became available, the time limit on Medals of Honor had expired. A Texas Congressman and an Army Representative appealed to Congress to make an exception.
Maj. Robert Roush, formerly of the Army's Military Awards Branch, testified: "I must stress that Sergeant Benavidez voluntaily joined his Comrades, who were in critical straits. He constantly exposed himself to withering fire, and his refusal to be stopped, despite numerous severe wounds, saved the lives of at least Eight Men."
 
The Pentagon, February 24, 1981, 1:45 P.M. Roy P. Benavidez approaches the podium in the courtyard, his stocky frame shuddering from the dull ache in his back, his legacy of War. He extends a Bayonet-Scarred Hand to his Commander in Chief.
"There I was, a little old Texas Farm Boy, with the President," Benavidez said later.
The President speaks:
"Several years ago, we brought home a group of American Fighting Men who had obeyed their Country's Call and who fought as bravely and as well as any Americans in our History.
"An Individual brought up on a Farm outside of Cuero, Texas, is here today. His Story has been overlooked or buried for several years.
"Secretary Weinberger, would you please escort Sergeant Benavidez forward." The President draped the Blue Ribbon around the Soldier's Neck and hugs him. Roy Benavidez, retired since 1976 on 80 percent Medical Disability, stands proud and erect, his dark eyes clouding with emotion.
"Sergeant Benavidez," the President continues, "a Nation grateful to you, and to all your Comrades living and dead, Awards you its highest Symbol of Gratitude for Service above and beyond the Call of Duty, the Medal of Honor."

Shirley Ruth Caron * 1221A Community Place * Indianapolis, IN 46227