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Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez


A hero whose devotion must be remembered

Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez of El Campo, Texas, did not consider himself a hero, although action by Congress in 1981, designated him so. One of 36 Hispanic recipients of the Medal of Honor in this nation's history, Benavidez maintained he was only doing what he had been trained for when he rescued a Special Forces team ambushed on May 2, 1968, inside Cambodia.

Late in November, this American hero died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. But it is up to Hispanic-Americans that the story of his heroics during and after the Vietnam War not die with him. His bravery must continue to inspire and propel a new generation of Hispanics still Embattled - now closer to home in their own neighborhoods and schools. Despite the sacrifice he already made for his country, Benavidez became deeply involved in that fight, visited schools to stress the need for the education he never had, reported The New York Times in his obituary.

A half-century ago, Benavidez dropped out of school because he was needed to pick sugar beets and cotton to support his family. Today, too many Hispanic youth - primarily Mexicans and Mexican-Americans repeat this scenario. That has helped produce dropout and poverty rates in which Latinos lead the nation.

More heroes, more people willing to do the extraordinary as part of their ordinary training in life are needed on today's battlefields of ignorance and deprivation. To move them to action, they need to be reminded of Benavidez's heroics and his commitment to this new fight after Vietnam.

On May 2, 1968, Benavidez was off-duty at his home base when he overheard a distress call from a Special forces team on an intelligence mission. It was not his responsibility to jump on a rescue helicopter to save the men. But he did. And when he landed west of Loc Ninh, Benavidez was shot in the face, head and right leg. Still, he ran across 75 yards to his comrades. After he got the team loaded on the helicopter, it crashed and the pilot was killed by enemy fire. Benavidez had to evacuate the men and over the next eight hours fight to keep the enemy at bay. He subsequently was shot in the stomach and thigh and hit in the back by grenade fragments. He was attacked by a North Vietnamese soldier. Benavidez who was bleeding profusely, killed the man with a knife.

Another rescue helicopter finally came. Eight members of the 12-man team were saved. The other four were dead. When he arrived at his home base, Benavidez was unable to move or speak. Thought to be dead, Benavidez was to placed in a body bag. But then he spit into a doctor's face to show he was alive. He spent a year in the hospital recovering from seven gunshot wounds, 28 shrapnel holes and bayonet wound.

That was the kind of grit Benavidez showed during his life. Four years earlier, Benavidez had been injured by a land mine in South Vietnam. Doctors thought he would never walk again. He did, and joined the Special Forces.

"His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty and extremely valorous action 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," the official record of his Medal of Honor heroics says.

For the remainder of his life, Benavidez had two pieces of shrapnel in his heart and a punctured lung. And despite constant pain, he still fought the enemy, this time closer to home.

He did not receive the Medal of Honor until 13 years later, presented to him by President Ronald Reagan. Then, two years later, he had to fight to keep the federal government from cutting off benefits for his disabilities. Unfortunately, he had to publicly embarrass his country by asking it not to forget his sacrifice. Too many veterans have had to do the same.

There is a lesson in Benavidez's life. From humble beginnings to service to country that demanded great sacrifice, one man rose to the highest military honor this nation can bestow. Surely, if Hispanic youth could emulate the same tenacious devotion to education, personal responsibility and family, then dropout and poverty rates would decline.

But first these young people must hear the story of one man's courage in a fight for survival in Southeast Asia, and then at home

Write to Tim Chavez, Gannett News Service, 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22229-0001

{Special thanks to Julia Karns, DRMS-CCA for submiting the above article}

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