- Recipient: Roy Benavidez
- Branch: U.S. Army
- Combat: Vietnam War
- Value: Sacrifice
The most revered heroes in history have one extraordinary trait in common: The willingness to sacrifice far beyond the call of duty. These brave men and women lay down their own aspirations, comfort, safety, and even their lives, not for glory, gold, or recognition, but for the well-being of those they serve.
Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez (then Staff Sergeant) was a man who, amid the chaos of battle, withering enemy fire, and critical injury, demonstrated the ultimate spirit of sacrifice—and saved the lives of at least eight men on the smoke-filled morning of May 2, 1968.
A life shaped by sacrifice
Born on August 5, 1935 in Cuero, Texas, Sgt. Benavidez understood the value of sacrifice from a young age. By the age of seven, he had lost both his father and mother to tuberculosis, and moved to El Campo, Texas to live with his grandfather. There, his aunt and uncle raised Sgt. Benavidez, his younger brother, and eight cousins.
To help his family keep food on the table, Sgt. Benavidez picked up any odd job he could find, from shining shoes to working on farms across the West Coast. At 15, he dropped out of school to work full-time, sacrificing his education to support those he cared for.
In 1952, Sgt. Benavidez enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard. Before long, he moved to Army active duty, then began training for the Army Special Forces group—an elite team of highly trained recruits tasked with some of the most dangerous and mission-critical assignments in combat. It was this team that would take him to Cambodia, and the ultimate test of his sacrificing spirit.
Into the heat of battle
In the early morning hours of May 2, 1968, west of Loc Ninh, Cambodia, a 12-man Special Forces Reconnaissance Team found themselves trapped in the dense jungle, surrounded and severely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese Army.
With three extraction attempts already thwarted by unrelenting enemy fire from small arms and anti-aircraft weapons, Sgt. Benavidez, stationed at the Forward Operating Base, knew the threat his comrades faced. Without hesitation, he volunteered to board the next helicopter heading to the extraction point.
Realizing that the entire team was either fallen or critically wounded, and unable to reach the pickup zone, Sgt. Benavidez jumped from the hovering helicopter and charged 75 meters through enemy fire, armed only with a knife and his medical bag.
Despite receiving wounds to his leg, face, and head, Sgt. Benavidez repositioned the team, focused their fire, and directed the extraction aircraft to land. With little regard for his own wounds, Sgt. Benavidez administered medical aid to those who needed it, and carried others back to the aircraft. As he worked quickly to recover classified documents from the team’s fallen sergeant, Sgt. Benavidez was critically wounded by small-arms fire and a nearby grenade. But he continued to push forward, determined to lead the team to safety.
Finishing the fight
As the enemy fire intensified, the pilot flying the extraction aircraft was mortally wounded—leaving Sgt. Benavidez and the team stranded, and surrounded, for hours, as they waited on the next rescue effort. Though he grew weaker by the moment, Sgt. Benavidez distributed water and ammunition to the remaining men.
With every ounce of strength he had left, Sgt. Benavidez made multiple trips under enemy fire to carry the wounded to the final extraction helicopter—securing or destroying every classified document in the process. Only then, nearly mortally wounded, did Sgt. Benavidez board the extraction aircraft and accept medical aid.
For his incredible self-sacrifice, Sgt. Benavidez was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by President Ronald Reagan on February 24, 1981.
Our call to sacrifice
Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez’s story is a profound and moving example of the ultimate self-sacrifice. Surrounded by chaos, enemy fire, and terror on all sides, Sgt. Benavidez chose to put the lives of his comrades above his own. He endured unimaginable wounds and unrelenting adversity, but faced it all with the determination to persevere.
That day, each step he took, each wounded soldier he carried, and each enemy he faced down was a testament to his spirit of sacrifice—a sacrifice that saved eight lives and has inspired thousands more.
Sgt. Benavidez’s story reminds us to look beyond our needs and desires, recognize the opportunities we each have to serve, and be willing to sacrifice when the moment calls for it. Because in giving, we receive. And in serving others, we bring honor to ourselves, our community, and our nation.