Master Sgt. Raul “Roy” P. Benavidez was a young special forces linguist and medic when, in 1965, he stepped on a mine in Vietnam and was evacuated to the United States. He was told he’d never walk again. But, wanting to return to Vietnam, he began a nightly ritual of attempting to relearn how to walk despite explicit orders from his doctors.
A year later, his doctor was standing in Benavidez’s hospital room with medical discharge papers. The doctor made a deal with Benavidez that he’d tear up the discharge if Benavidez walked out of the room. Benavidez did one better by walking out of the ward.
Amazingly, this was not the most insane or heroic part of Benavidez’s life. That’s because, after returning to Vietnam, Benavidez volunteered to assist with the emergency extraction of a 12-man special forces team under extreme fire on May 2, 1968. He rode into battle on the fourth helicopter to attempt extraction, the first three having been driven back by withering small arms and anti-aircraft fire. The fourth bird also decided it couldn’t land, but allowed Benavidez to drop out of the helicopter 75 meters from the team.
Benavidez ran the 75 meters and was wounded three times in the process, including once in the head and once in the face. Despite his wounds, he began repositioning the wounded team members so they could lay down fire while also marking the location for aircraft to attempt extraction. When the bird arrived, he ran alongside, providing cover fire, as the helicopter picked up the wounded. Right as the helicopter and Benavidez reached the dead team leader, Benavidez was hit by small arms fire and grenade shrapnel while the pilot was mortally wounded and crashed the aircraft.
Benavidez again recovered the wounded and placed them in a defensive perimeter. He began circuits of the perimeter, distributing ammunition and water. As the enemy increased its pressure on the team, he began calling in airstrikes.
Another aircraft arrived to attempt extraction and Benavidez — despite his own serious injuries — ferried the dead and wounded to the waiting helicopter until he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. He engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the soldier and killed him, but sustained bayonet wounds. While ferrying the last of the wounded to the bird, he engaged two additional enemy soldiers, killing them and protecting the helicopter.
Then, just to prove being wounded 37 times in six hours of combat ain’t no thang, he did a final sweep of the perimeter to ensure no wounded men or classified material was left on the battlefield.
Finally, Benavidez allowed himself to be pulled from the fight. Upon arriving back at the base, he was declared dead by two doctors. As the second one was zipping up the body bag, Benavidez proved he was alive by spitting in the doctor’s face, much like he had been spitting in the face of death for the previous six hours.
It would be nearly 13 more years before Benavidez was awarded the Medal of Honor, primarily because it was thought that there were no surviving witnesses to testify to his actions. After a team member who did survive, Brian O’Conner, heard Benavidez was still alive and that a witness testimony would allow him to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor, O’Conner provided a 10-page report to satisfy the requirement.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal Of Honor. Before reading the citation, he told the crowd, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”
The reading of the citation and Benavidez’s story, in his own words, is available in the video below.