Recently, Stars and Stripes and several other publications have posted pieces on a proposal for renaming Fort Hood in Texas for Roy Benavidez, the Medal of Honor (MOH) recipient from Lindenau, DeWitt County, Texas. Benavidez was awarded the MOH for extraordinary heroism while rescuing several Americans during the Vietnam War on May 2, 1968.
Normally, when it comes to removing or renaming anything from the Civil War, I have been adamantly against it. You can’t change history as many are attempting to do –quite well– by erasing it. But when it comes to Ft. Hood, perhaps it is time to truly honor one of Texas’ own sons.
Ft. Hood was established early in World War II as the home of the tank destroyer forces. America was establishing lightly armored, fast-moving tank destroyers with larger guns to bolster both the infantry and armored formations. After the war, Ft. Hood remained as a viable base and is the largest base in the free world.
It was named after John Bell Hood, known to his friends as Sam. Hood was a native of Kentucky who got an appointment to West Point where Robert E. Lee was the commandant and after graduation was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was assigned first to the 4th Infantry in California, and later to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Texas. He was wounded for the first of many times there in a battle with Commanches at Devil’s River in 1857.
When the Civil War began, Hood was incensed at Kentucky’s neutral stance and joined with a Texas Regiment under the command of Albert Sidney Johnston. He later commanded what became known as “Hood’s Texas Brigade” that included the great-great, grandfather of my former battalion commander. Hood was known as an impulsive and aggressive commander who led from the front. Severely wounded at Gettysburg, he lost the use of his left arm. After recovering, he was severely wounded and had his right leg amputated during the Battle of Chickamauga.
However, Hood never really adopted Texas as his home. He was assigned there in the Cavalry and joined a Confederate unit there. After the war, when Hood and his troops surrendered and were paroled in Mississippi, he didn’t move to Texas, he went to Louisiana and became a cotton broker. During the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1879, Hood, his wife and his oldest died. He is buried in the family cemetery in Metairie, LA.
Which brings us back to Benavidez. He was the son of a Mexican-American father and a Yaqui Indian mother. Both his parents died when he was young. He joined the National Guard during the Korean War and later transferred to the active-duty Army.
He joined the Green Berets and was severely wounded in Vietnam in 1965. Doctors told him that he’d never walk again, but a year later, he walked out of the hospital and back to SF. In 1968, he returned to Vietnam as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group and was assigned to the famous Studies and Observations Group (SOG).
From our piece on Benavidez at SpecialOperations.com:
He was assigned to Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group at Loc Ninh, an SF base along the Cambodian border. On May 2, 1968, Benavidez, a devout Catholic was attending a prayer service when he heard that a 12-man patrol had inserted into a hornets’ nest of NVA, numbering between 1000-1500. The patrol of three Americans and nine Nung tribesmen was shot up and calling for immediate extraction. The ensuing battle would last for over six hours.
Three attempts to extricate the team by helicopters were driven off by intense ground and anti-aircraft fire. Grabbing a medical aid bag and armed with only a knife, Benavidez leaped on a rescue chopper and off they went.
The helicopter got to within 75 yards of the trapped men and Benavidez jumped from the hovering Huey and raced to the trapped team coming under withering fire. He was hit in the leg and knocked down. But he continued to the team and blasted by a grenade blast suffering shrapnel wounds to his face, arm, and back.
Reaching the trapped team, four men were already dead and the rest were wounded. Benavidez treated the wounded, grabbed an AK from one of the dead men and passed around ammunition. Then he directed air strikes around the perimeter to keep the NVA at bay.
Calling in a Huey to evacuate part of the dead and wounded, he was shot again in the leg. Ignoring his own wounds, he dragged the dead and wounded to the chopper, he provided covering fire. The chopper moved to the second group of men for extract with Benavidez under it, firing at the enemy.
NVA fire increased and smashed into the Huey, killing the pilot and sending the Huey crashing into the ground. Benavidez had made it to the dead team leader and removed the classified documents from around the man’s neck. He was then shot in the stomach by an NVA soldier and another grenade tore into his back and shoulders.
Despite this, and now coughing up blood, he crawled to the downed helicopter. There they formed a small perimeter and passed out the remaining ammunition. He continued to direct air strikes from F-4 Phantom jets and helicopter gunships to push the NVA back. Several of the strikes were danger close.
The North Vietnamese fire increased and mortar rounds were falling everywhere. All of the wounded including Benavidez were hit again. The American helicopter pilots were ready to attempt another rescue attempt.
Grabbing a seriously wounded American SF team member, he hoisted him over his shoulder and lurched toward the waiting helicopter. An NVA soldier believed dead, leaped up and clubbed Benavidez with the butt of his Ak-47, breaking his jaw and knocking him to the ground. As the NVA soldier lunged at Benavidez with his bayonet, Roy grabbed it with his right hand and used his Bowie knife in his left. Pulling the enemy soldier forward he stabbed him but not before suffering a slash to his right hand and his left arm being run thru with the bayonet.
Again, he attempted to drag his American comrade to the helicopter and then noticed two more NVA run from the jungle in the blind spot of the American door gunners. Benavidez grabbed an AK-47 and somehow managed to drop both of the enemy soldiers.
He then made another trip into the perimeter and brought out the team’s interpreter before finally being pushed into the helicopter and lifting off. Holding his intestines in with one hand, he held his dying teammate’s hand with the other.
Having almost bled out on the helicopter, Benavidez slipped into near unconsciousness. A doctor felt for a heartbeat and not registering one, indicated that he should be placed in a body bag with the dead. Benavidez, unable to speak because of the broken jaw, spit in the doctor’s face to let him know he was still alive.
He was then taken into the hospital where the doctors began to treat his myriad of injuries. He had seven gunshot wounds, one of them went thru his back, destroying his right lung and exited just beneath his heart. He had 28 shrapnel wounds in his back, neck, head, legs, feet, and buttocks. Both arms were pierced by a bayonet as well as his hand. His jaw was broken and the back of his head smashed by the enemy’s rifle butt. None of the doctors expected Benavidez to survive. They were wrong.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented Roy P. Benavidez with the Medal of Honor. Reagan turned to the press and said, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it”.
“This is an attempt to get the conversation going about how can we reward some of the more contemporary heroes of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and then Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Air Force veteran, Jorge Haynes who is a member of LULAC 777 Veterans Council and brought the resolution up for resolution.
Now, this resolution is on the desk of the Secretary of the Army. If he approves it, it will then go to the appropriate committees in Congress for final approval. Benavidez was proud of his heritage and even prouder to be a member of the Green Berets and a Texan native. Although very humble personally, he would use the power behind his MOH to help out a fellow veteran in need in a New York second.
Danny Castillo can attest to Benavidez’s benevolence when it comes to fellow soldiers and helping them while in need. Castillo grew up with members of Benavidez’s relatives, he considered Roy like his godfather. “Roy was awesome when I tried to get from the New Mexico Military Institute into the Army, he helped me get a commission.”
The only branch he could get into was the Chemical Branch. When he graduated from his officer basic course, the guest speaker was Roy Benavidez, the first time anyone there can remember a Medal of Honor awardee speaking to the Chemical officers. Castillo wanted to go Special Forces and reached out to Benavidez. “He told me, ‘I know a Colonel from 5th Group Colonel Guest (retired Major General) and a Major Rowe (Nick) who may help you get in’”, Castillo remembers, “But he added, ‘passing is on you’”.
During his SF training, Benavidez answered every letter that Castillo sent. After his graduation, Castillo a native Spanish speaker was assigned to the 7th SFG (A). He was my A Detachment commander. During a deployment to Central America, Castillo was badly injured and would be permanently in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic.
Due to bureaucratic red tape, the VA was dragging their feet on getting him his benefits. Our team reached out to Roy Benavidez for help. Roy called the head honcho at the VA and told him on the phone, “I figured I’d ask you first, because President Reagan gave me a number to call to speak with him, and if I have to, I will.”
Castillo remembers Benavidez would call and visit with not just him but other veterans often. “He was all about kids staying in school, respect for the flag and the veteran community and love of his country,” he said.
“I can’t think of a better native Texan to name Ft. Hood after if they decide to change the name of it,” Castillo said. “He was for everyone bettering themselves and giving back to our country.”
Here’s hoping that Ft. Hood is soon going to be named after Roy Benavidez. He’d be proud but deflect it all back on the soldiers he served with and those that followed.
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