Navy names ship in honor of Roy Benavidez

(Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in a recent San Antonio Express-News edition. It is about Army M/Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, a Medal of Honor winner, who spoke at the May 19, 1986 dedication ceremonies of Brady’s memorial to its Korean and Vietnam veterans who gave their lives for their country during that particular war. Benavidez also was a personal friend of the late Paul Hernandez, a Brady Vietnam vet who died recently.) By SIG CHRISTENSON San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer The U.S. Navy plans to name a new ship after the late Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, a Medal of Honor recipient with deep ties to San Antonio. The seventh in a class of large, medium speed roll-on/roll-off sealift ships will be named for Benavidez and will be the second Navy vessel named for a Hispanic Texan, U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said. “Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez was a true American hero, rising from humble origins in South Texas to become an Army legend,” Army Secretary Louis Caldera said. “Wounded over 40 times as he saved the lives of eight fellow soldiers under heavy fire in Vietnam, he always said he was only doing his duty to his fellow soldiers and to the country he loved,” Caldera continued. “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.” TO BE CHRISTENED next summer, the USNS Benavidez is to be a non-combatant vessel run by civilian mariners and operated by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, Washington, D.C. Built by Litton-Avondale Industries in New Orleans, La., large, medium speed roll-on/roll-off ships, or LMSRs are the Navy’s newest class of vessels. They can carry an entire Army task force, including 58 tanks, 48 other tracked vehicles, plus more than 900 trucks for use in combat and humanitarian missions. Each ship has cargo deck space of more than 380,000 square feet, equivalent to almost eight football fields, and a crew of up to 45 civilians and 50 active-duty military personnel. The Navy’s first LMSR was named after the late Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart, a Delta Force operative killed in a 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia. The Navy made history when it launched the guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez on Oct. 12, 1996, before a crowd of 5,000 at Ingleside Naval Station. The ship was named for Medal of Honor recipient Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzales, a 21-year-old Marine sergeant from Edinburg who was wounded on Jan. 31, 1968, while protecting fellow GIs during the battle for Hue City, one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Vietnam War. Despite his wounds, Gonzales refused medical treatment and continued supervising an attack, then fell mortally wounded the next day. “I think it is a great honor,” said Benavidez’s 28-year-old son, Noel, an El Campo computer network engineer and San Antonio native. “How many ships are named after soldiers’ How many ships are named after an enlisted man'” wondered retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Benito Guerrero, a longtime Benavidez confidant. “Most of them are named after generals or after presidents.” Danzig described the 950-foot long, 62,000-ton LMSR ships, known as Bob Hope class vessels, as “resolute assets that are always quietly there in the background,” capable of providing vital reinforcement worldwide. THE NAVY SECRETARY said Bena-videz “personified that same spirit throughout his life, and most powerfully during a single action that saved lives in combat.” Benavidez was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross from Gen. William Westmoreland for his heroism in a rescue of Special Forces troops in Cambodia on May 2, 1968. When the full story of his actions became known, the award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which Benavidez received from President Reagan in 1981. A Green Beret, Benavidez was three months into his second tour of Vietnam when a North Vietnamese regiment surrounded a dozen soldiers from his unit during a secret mission to Cambodia authorized by President Johnson. When he became aware of the situation, then-Staff Sgt. Benavidez thought ofthree friends trapped in the fire zone and rushed to a helicopter. “When I got to that ‘copter, little did I know we were going to spend six hours in hell,” he told the San Antonio Express-News weeks before his death in 1998 at age 63. Benavidez suffered wounds to the right leg, face and head while charging through heavy enemy fire. He shifted team leaders so they could give cover to the helicopters, then carried the wounded GIs to nearby aircraft. But that was only the beginning of a vicious fight. Benavidez retrieved classified documents from a dead team leader, then gathered wounded soldiers from a downed aircraft and set up a defense perimeter. As enemy fire intensified, he called in airstrikes, directed fire from helicopters buzzing over the battlefield and, though badly wounded, administered first aid. Bleeding from gunshot wounds and hit in the back by grenade fragments, Benavidez was clubbed while leading a second extraction. IN THE HAND-TO-HAND fighting that ensued, he suffered wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary and cutting down two other enemy soldiers as they tried to overtake a helicopter. The bloodied and exhausted Benavidez then made another trip in search of classified documents, but instead emerged with even more wounded. Benavidez, a devout Catholic, said he made the sign of the cross so often during the fight his arms “were going like an airplane prop.” “He was a hard-charger, a good soldier, a fighter who never gave up,” said retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Willie Noles, 70, of San Antonio. “He was a soldier’s soldier, there’s no doubt about it,” Guerrero agreed. Born in the South Texas German community of Lindenau, Raul Perez Benavidez was a sharecropper’s son who barely knew his parents. Salvador and Teresa Benavidez died a year apart, leaving him and a younger brother, Roger, to live with an uncle, Nicholas Benavidez. The family worked as migrant laborers, toiling in sugar beet and cotton fields from West Texas to Colorado. The young Benavidez spent more time in the field than in school, finishing only the eighth grade, and though he faced discrimination in the 1940s he vowed to master English and his life. Benavidez found his high school diploma, and upward mobility, in the Army. A stint in airborne school persuaded him to make a career of the service and, he said later, “become a soldier and be the best.” Benavidez died Nov. 29, 1998, at Brooke Army Medical Center. Five days later, more than 1,500 family and friends gave Benavidez one last salute as he was buried in the shade of a live oak tree at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. THE MAN KNOWN by Army Special Forces troops everywhere as “Tango Mike Mike” has not been forgotten since that afternoon. The $14 million Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez Special Operations Logistics Complex at Fort Bragg, N.C., was dedicated 13 months ago. Efforts are under way to erect a statue of Benavidez in El Campo, where his widow, Hilaria “Lala” Benavidez, 66, got word of the Navy’s decision Thursday evening. “It came as a surprise to me to receive a telephone call from Capt. Bill Cullin of the United States Navy to inform me that the secretary of the Navy has decided to name a naval ship after my late husband,” she said. “My children and I are truly honored that the Benavidez name will be added to a long list of Navy vessels. Roy would be proud.” Family members already are looking forward to launching the Benavidez, his four grandchildren flanking the VIP section. “Roy was quite a military man. I think he would be quite proud,” said Roger Benavidez, 64, an El Campo real estate broker and former Army National Guard sergeant. “I think that would be a great thing,” Noles said. “I rarely have heard of these things, that the Navy honors an Army soldier, and I think if my father were here today he would be ecstatic,” Noel Benavidez said. “However, I know in my heart that he’s grinning from ear to ear.”

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