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USNS Benavidez Honors Army Medal of Honor Hero

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2000 – The late Roy P. Benavidez, who received the Medal of Honor in 1981 for valor in Vietnam, is the latest soldier whose name will be borne on a Navy ship.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez (center) is flanked by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (left) and President Ronald Reagan at his Medal of Honor presentation ceremony in 1981. The Special Forces soldier was cited for heroism in Vietnam in 1968. Air Force photo by Ron Hall.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Navy Secretary Richard Danzig announced Sept. 15 that the next in a series of re-supply ships will be named the USNS Benavidez. The retired Army master sergeant died at age 63 on Nov. 29, 1998, in San Antonio. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

"Our Bob Hope-class of ships are resolute assets that are always quietly there in the background," Danzig said in his announcement. "They are capable of coming forward in a vital way when America calls for reinforcement of its combat needs around the world. Roy Benavidez personified that same spirit throughout this life, and most powerfully during a single action that saved lives in combat.

The Benavidez is scheduled to be launched next summer. It is the seventh in a class of 950-foot-long roll-on/roll-off sealift ships. The diesel-powered ships are 106 feet abeam, displace about 62,000 long tons and can sail at a sustained 24 knots.

Born in Lindenau, Texas, on Aug. 5, 1935, Benavidez would later join the Army to become a Special Forces soldier. Of Mexican and Yaqui Indian ancestry, he later co-authored the autobiographical "Medal of Honor – A Vietnam Warrior's Story."

"Roy was a soldier to be emulated by those wearing the uniform and an example of a self-made person. He was a role model to many young Hispanics and made a lot of public appearances at schools," said retired Army Master Sgt. Charlie Hoffman, who had commented about his friend at the time of his death.

Benavidez's destiny took him to Vietnam, where, as a member of Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, he challenged death on May 2, 1968.

A staff sergeant at the time, Benavidez "distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," his Medal of Honor citation states. The citation credits him with helping to save the lives of eight of his Special Forces comrades during helicopter evacuations during a firefight with North Vietnamese regular forces west of Loc Ninh.

Benavidez suffered a broken jaw and 37 bullet and bayonet puncture wounds in the fight. He was so mauled that his commanding officer thought he wouldn't live long enough to receive a Medal of Honor. He nominated Benavidez for the Distinguished Service Cross instead, because the No. 2 award would take less time and paperwork to obtain.

Benavidez, however, survived his wounds and received the DSC from Gen. William C. Westmoreland. Only years later did the general learn detailed particulars of Benavidez's heroism. The DSC was upgraded to a Medal of Honor, and Benavidez received the award in 1981 from President Ronald Reagan in a White House ceremony.

"Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez was a true American hero, rising from humble origins in South Texas to become an Army legend," said Army Secretary Louis Caldera. "The Navy's recognition of his selfless service is truly an appropriate tribute to Master Sgt. Benavidez's memory, and to the ideals of our nation that he epitomized."

Benavidez is one of the 37 Hispanic Americans among the 3,400 recipients of the Medal of Honor since the award was created in 1861.

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