Most of the time, fictional stories tell a narrative about unrealistic survivals. But the story of Roy Benavidez is a different case. The soldier fought his most prolonged six hours in hell and lived a hero after he got up from the rubble, and here’s why.

On August 5, 1935, Benavidez was born in Lindenau, located in DeWitt County, close to Cuero, Texas. His Mexican-American father, Salvador Benavidez, Jr., was a farmer, and his Yaqui Indian mother, Teresa Perez, gave birth to him in Benavides, Texas. 

Benavidez lost both of his parents when he was still a little child. When he was two years old, his father died from tuberculosis. After another five years, his mother succumbed to the same condition and passed away. Benavidez and his younger brother, Roger, relocated to El Campo, where their grandfather, uncle, and aunt raised them together with eight cousins. 

As for him, he started working when he was still a young kid. He worked as a shoe shiner at the town bus station, did manual labor on farms in California and Washington, and worked at a tire store in El Campo. He left school when he was 15 years old to begin working full-time to assist with the financial upkeep of the family who raised them, per a report.

By the time the Korean War began in 1952, Benavidez had already enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard and served in the conflict. In June of 1955, he made the transition into the US Army. By 1959, he had finished his airborne training and was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to join the 82nd Airborne Division. He started training for the highly specialized Army Special Forces at Fort Bragg. After that, he joined the 5th Special Forces Group and the Studies and Observations Group (SOG).

US Army Master Sergeant Raul Benavidez is pictured in Dress Greens uniform with Special Forces Beret and Medal of Honor. (Source: Veterans Affairs/ United States Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Six Hours of Hell

When Roy Benavidez heard a call for assistance being broadcast on May 2, 1968, he was in the region of Loc Ninh, situated on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. He was passing past a bunker at the time. A problem arose for the twelve-person team working on a top-secret mission. An infantry battalion of the North Vietnamese Army consisting of approximately a thousand soldiers surrounded the twelve-man Special Forces reconnaissance team.

Benavidez took to the air and flew across the border into Cambodia without prior orders. Benavidez jumped out of the chopper and raced 75 yards through enemy fire to reach the group of people who were trapped because his helicopter was unable to land safely. Benavidez survived after being shot and hit by shrapnel from a hand grenade. Even though he was clueless about it at the time, his famously known “six hours in hell” is just starting.

Benavidez had just returned to the helicopter after retrieving sensitive documents from the body of a fallen soldier when the pilot of the aircraft was fatally injured, and the helicopter went down. After recovering the documents, Benavidez returned to the plane and assisted the injured passengers exiting the upside-down aircraft. Next, he organized the stunned survivors into a perimeter for defensive purposes. Despite his intense fire, he continued to walk around the squad and hand out water and ammunition to the soldiers.

After that, he voiced a plea for additional rescue efforts and airstrikes. He sustained more wounds to the thigh as a result of the shooting. An opponent stabbed him as he made his way toward the second rescue chopper. Despite sustaining injuries, the confrontation resulted in the death of the adversary.  

After killing two more North Vietnamese soldiers, Benavidez pulled his final comrade to the awaiting rescue helicopters while he continued his killing spree. As soon as his fellow soldiers were rescued, Benavidez lost consciousness. He had sustained 37 wounds from gunfire, grenades, and bayonets; hence, when they returned to the camp, he was thought to have died.

In a last-ditch effort, Benavidez spat at the doctor as he closed the morgue bag where Benavidez’s body had been placed. The doctor responded, “I think this one will survive.” Benavidez had fought for six hours to save the lives of his comrades and survived all the sustained injuries.

Medal of Honor

President Ronald Reagan stands beside Medal of Honor recipient retired MSGT Roy P. Benavidez, U.S. Army, during a ceremony at the Pentagon. (Source: National Archives at College Park – Still Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Initially, Sergeant Roy Benavidez was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart only as the awarding board required a firsthand witness during the combat. Benavidez thought that no one survived the incident. The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest award for remarkable heroism under fire. But Benavidez was awarded the Medal of Honor later in 1981 by Ronald Reagan, who was serving as President of the US at the time after Brian O’Connor, who was the radioman of Benavidez’s team in Vietnam, submitted to the Army Decorations Board a detailed account of the event legitimizing the bravery of Benavidez. As President Ronald Reagan was awarding the Medal of Honor to the recipient, he remarked: “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”

Benavidez’s dedication to serving narrates how far his selflessness would lead him in pursuit of a peaceful community. He defied the system of violence, fought for the sake of his fellows, and proved that he was worth honoring. And from the six hours of battling in hell, he is now at peace in heaven after he died on November 29, 1998, at 63.