Benavidez, Raul Perez [Roy] (1935–1998)

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: Biography

Published: September 25, 2007

Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez was born Raul Perez Benavidez at Cuero, Texas, August 5, 1935. His father was Salvador Benavidez, a Mexican American, and his mother was Teresa Perez, an American Yaqui Indian. Raul's parents died when he was a child, and he and his younger brother were then raised by their Uncle Nicholas and Aunt Alexandria at El Campo, Texas. He dropped out of school during the seventh grade and enlisted in the Texas National Guard at age seventeen. At nineteen he joined the Regular Army as Roy Perez Benavidez and got his infantry training at Fort Ord, California. By 1958 he had served in South Korea and Germany. Returning to the United States he married a childhood sweetheart, Lala Coy on June 7, 1959. They had three children. In 1959 he attended military police school at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and in 1965 was in Vietnam as a military adviser to the Vietnamese Army. While on patrol he was badly wounded after stepping on a land mine and was evacuated to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, with serious bone and cartilage damage to his spine. After a long period of treatment and rehabilitation he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam, this time in the Special Forces as a Green Beret. On the morning of May 2, 1968, Sergeant Benavidez was in the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh, when rescue helicopters returned from Cambodia after an unsuccessful attempt to extract a Special Forces team. Benavidez volunteered for another rescue attempt, an event that would become "six hours in hell" in his own words. Reaching the pick-up zone, Sergeant Benavidez jumped from the helicopter and ran about eighty yards through withering fire to the embattled team. He was wounded in the right leg, face, and head. In spite of his injuries he directed the landing of the extraction helicopter and assisted in the loading of dead and wounded team members, and he then proceeded to collect classified papers and a radio from the dead team leader. During this action he continued to receive wounds from small arms fire and shrapnel. When the chopper pilot was shot and the rescue helicopter crashed Benavidez assisted the wounded and dazed men out of the overturned machine, and facing increasing enemy opposition, he called in tactical air strikes and directed supporting gunfire to attempt another rescue. He then began assisting the wounded aboard another helicopter. He sustained more injuries during hand-to-hand combat with an enemy soldier and also killed two others during the frantic rush to secure all the wounded. Benavidez received a total of seven bullet wounds to his legs and torso as well as numerous other bayonet and shrapnel cuts. His brave and decisive actions during the rescue attempt resulted in saving at least eight soldiers. He received four Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross. He was released from the hospital in 1969 after a year of intensive medical treatment and therapy and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1972 he was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he served out the duration of his military career until his retirement on September 10, 1976.

The unselfish devotion of Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez to his comrades, and to his country, was deserving of the Medal of Honor. Many of his comrades thought the recommendation for the MOH was submitted, but the award was not made at that time. Efforts were made on his behalf, sufficient witnesses were finally located, and the award was presented on February 24, 1981, by President Reagan, in the White House. Because this action, for which the award was made, took place in Cambodia, there has been some speculation that political embarrassment may have contributed to the delay. Benavidez retired with total disability from the United States Army in 1976 and moved to El Campo, Texas. After being notified in 1983 that his disability was being questioned by the Social Security Administration, he became a spokesperson for others who were being denied benefits. He was called to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging. His testimony contributed to the restoration of benefits to many recipients. Master Sergeant Benavidez died at the age of sixty-three on November 29, 1998, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He was buried with full military honors in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. On July 21, 2001, the U. S. Navy christened the USNS Benavidez, a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship in honor of the military hero.

Medal of Honor: A Vietnam Warrior's Story, Roy P. Benavidez, with John R. Craig (Brassey's, Washington, D.C., 1995). Benavidez, Roy P. and Oscar Griffin. The Three Wars of Roy Benavidez (San Antonio: Corona Publishing Col, 1986). Dallas Morning News, November 30, December 4, 1998. Austin American-Statesman, November 30, 1998, December 3, 1998.
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Military

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Benavidez, Raul Perez [Roy],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 25, 2007

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