He was wounded 37 times by bullets, shrapnel, a bayonet, and a rifle butt but his only thoughts were on those others who were hit on that day in May 1968. His actions saved eight other men’s lives in Vietnam on that day. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery but it wouldn’t be for 13 more years. Because nothing ever came easy for Roy Benavidez.

Benavidez was born in 1935 outside of Cuero, Texas to a Mexican sharecropper father and a Yaqui Indian mother. Both of them would be dead of tuberculosis before Roy was eight years old. He was moved to his grandparents with his younger brother and he grew up with eight other cousins in the household.

He struggled in school before dropping out in the seventh grade. He worked odd jobs to help support his family; in a tire shop, on farms in the area, even shining shoes in the bus station.

Everything began to change for him in 1952 when he joined the National Guard. Three years later he enlisted in the Regular Army. He married his wife and joined the 82nd Airborne Division in 1959. Like many other men, he moved down the street and joined Special Forces.

On his first tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965, he stepped on a landmine and was airlifted out to the states where he was told that he’d never walk again. Determined to prove the doctors wrong, he’d sneak out of his bed and began a furious nightly regimen where he’s crawl to a wall and slowly force himself up to a standing position. He recalled in a speech the agony he’d go thru to walk again.

“The doctors were initiating my medical discharge papers, but at night I would slip out of bed and crawl to a wall using my elbows and my chin. My back would just be killing me and I’d be crying, but I get to the wall and I set myself against the wall and I’d back myself up against the wall and I’d stand there — like Kaw-Liga, the Indian. I’d stand and move my toes, right and left…every single chance I got — I got. And I wanted to walk — I wanted to go back to Vietnam because of what the news media was saying about us: that our presence was not needed there; they’re burning the flag.”

A year later in July 1966, he walked out of the hospital accompanied by his wife, determined to resume his Special Forces career.

Benavidez returned to Vietnam in January 1968. He was assigned to Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group at Loc Ninh, an SF base along the Cambodian border.