The American Soldier Who Went on a One-Man Rampage Against a Battalion of Communists
Who doesn’t know Sylvester Stallone’s box-office hit, Rambo? John Rambo was a soldier of the U.S. Army who fought in the Vietnam War, and he was a member of the elite force, the Green Beret. Rambo was so iconic that he became a legend.
In real life, Americans indeed had a Rambo. He was Master Sergeant Raul Perez “Roy” Benevidez, aka Tango Mike Mike. A member of the Green Berets and a Veteran who fought in the Vietnam War, not once, but twice. His gallantry seemed second to none when he sacrificed himself, went on a one-man rampage to save his comrades, and ensure classified information won’t get into the hands of the communists.
If only they turned Perez’s life story into a Hollywood film, John Rambo would look like a second-rate hero.
Early Life in Texas
Benavidez was born in Lindenau near Cuero, Texas in DeWitt County in August 5, 1935. He was a native of Benavides, Texas, and was the son of a Mexican-American farmer, Salvador Benavidez, Jr., and a Yaqui Indian mother, Teresa Perez.
Benevidez became an orphan at an early age. His father died of tuberculosis when he was two. Five years later, his mother passed away with the same illness.
Benevidez and his younger brother, Roger, moved to El Campo, where their grandfather, uncle, and aunt raised them along with eight cousins.
Growing up, life had been rough for Benevidez, he attended school sporadically, but he only experienced bullying whenever he was present at classes. He was then an easy target among his peers because of his mixed heritage and skin color.
He started working as well at a young age; he shined shoes at the local bus station, labored on farms in California and Washington, and at a tire shop in El Campo. At the age of 15, he dropped out to work full-time to help support the family.
By 1952, Benevidez had enlisted to the Texas Army National Guard and fought in the Korean War. In June 1955, he transferred to the U.S. Army. By 1959, he completed Airborne training and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Deployment in Vietnam
Benevidez was sent to South Vietnam in 1965 as an advisor to an Army of the Republic of Vietnam infantry regiment. He was assigned for a classified mission alone to gather pieces of evidence to prove that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was posing as Vietcong.
He disguised himself as a Vietcong guerilla; he patrolled a narrow trail when he stepped on a landmine. Eventually, a Marine squad found him lying on the ground. They initially thought it was a booby trap, but they were surprised to see he’s not Asian but Hispanic when they flipped him over.
Thus, Benevidez was wearing U.S. Army dog tags. The marines took him to the hospital and later sent him home to Texas.
Shattered physique, feisty soul
Benevidez spent two months unconscious at Fort Sam Houston; when he woke up and recovered, his doctors told him that he would never walk again. His spine has been damaged, and his brain had rattled in his skull.
Despite his critical condition, Benevidez begged the doctors not to recommend him to be discharged from the Army because the Army was his life. Determined to get back in shape, Roy got up from his bed night after night, dragging himself to the wall and putting some weight on his legs. Even though his doctors didn’t advise this, he pushed himself to get better.
For weeks, he endured excruciating pain, ongoing further in the distance than before. Even his doctors were surprised by his remarkable progress. After over a year of hospitalization, Benevidez was discharged from the hospital in 1966, but not in the military. He was, however, assigned to do desk jobs, but Benevidez knew he was meant for the battlefield.
When he got back to Fort Bragg, Benevidez exercised relentlessly. This time he was aiming for the elite U.S. Army task force — the Green Berets. With his unwavering willpower, Benevidez got qualified and was assigned to detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group Airborne, 1st Special Forces.
In January 1968, Benevidez was back in Vietnam as a Staff Sergeant with a codename: Tango Mike Mike.
Back in Vietnam: The Six-Hours in Hell
On May 2, 1968, when Benevidez was off duty and attending church, his mind was fixed on the panicking radio chatter from the frontlines in Nihn Binh, Vietnam, near the Cambodian border. The 12-man Special Forces reconnaissance was surrounded by an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) infantry battalion of about 1,000 men.
The team included Benevidez’s closest friends, Sergeant First Class Leroy Wright, Staff Sergeant Lloyd Musso, Specialist Four Mountain O’Connor, and other nine Montagnard tribesmen, members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program.
Everyone in the unit was either killed or severely injured in earlier fighting. The three of the helicopters sent to rescue them had been unable to extricate them due to heavy enemy fire.
When the helicopters returned to the U.S. camp, they were riddled with bullets. One of them was hit several times and even died in Benevidez’s arms. He immediately jumped onto one of the choppers, quickly volunteered to rescue his friends.
He even forgot his gun and armed himself only with a bowie knife and a medical bag. As they approached the extraction zone, he realized his friends might have been gravely injured that they would not be able to run the distance to the chopper.
The NVA also fired at the chopper. And the pilot, Larry McKibben, had to zigzag in the air to dodge the bullets. When Benevidez got his timing, he jumped out of the chopper with his knife and bag. He ran through the jungle straight to his wounded comrades, who were still under heavy fire.
His leg got hit, but he went on.
Benevidez found one of the CIDGs, who were then continuously firing behind a tree, even though his right eyeball was shot out and already hanging down his cheek. Other CIDGs were in the pool of blood, but they were trying their best to fire back.
Roy dragged them one by one into a defensive position to direct their attack accurately at the enemy. While they were shooting, Roy was giving them morphine.
From a distance, Benevidez saw O’Connor and a CIDG interpreter. He signaled them to move over to him, but the gunfire was intense. Benevidez was hit again, this time in his thigh. He quickly reacted by throwing the green smoke for the pilot to pick them up.
Those men who could move managed to get into the chopper while Roy took cover. He suppressed the tree line fire with an AK-47 he had picked up to cover O’Conner and the interpreter who crawled towards the chopper.
After that, Benevidez looked for Leroy Wright. Unfortunately, he got killed. Yet, the intel documents were with him, and that information could not get into the communists’ hands. Benevidez dragged Wright’s body to the chopper, but he got shot in the stomach, and his back was hit by shrapnel from a nearby grenade, knocking him out.
When he awoke, he was forced to leave his friend’s dead body.
Meanwhile, another disaster happened; the chopper crashed, and the pilot died. But five of the men on board, including Musso, O’Conner, and the interpreter, survived.
Benevidez pulled them out from the burning chopper. He gave them another shot of morphine and set up a perimeter around the crash site.
An Air Force F-100 came to the rescue as by bombarding the NVA from above. But when they ran out of fuel, the enemy’s machine guns fired anew. Benevidez gave O’Conner his third morphine injection, and while doing it, he got hit again in the leg. By this time, they were now surrounded by the enemy; it could have been their end.
Fortunately, a helicopter finally came to their rescue. Benevidez and the rescue team carried and dragged the wounded men onto the aircraft, but the landing zone was still being fired upon by the NVAs.
Benevidez’s vision started to get blurry as blood was already covering his eyesight. But it didn’t hinder him from saving his comrades. When he was about to get Musso, an NVA soldier bunted his head and jaw with a rifle and slashed his arm with a bayonet. He shouted to O’Conner to shoot, but he was too drugged to react appropriately.
Benevidez pulled his bowie knife and stabbed the NVA soldier until he was breathless. He then dragged Musso after and killed another two NVA soldiers by extensively firing an M16. He made one final trip to the interpreter and destroyed all classified materials. Only after that, he allowed the others to pull him up onto the helicopter.
Benevidez was the last American soldier who left the battlefield.
Benevidez was holding his stomach throughout the flight as his intestines were already out. When they arrived at the base camp, all men — dead or alive men — were examined. It revealed that Benevidez even carried three NVA soldiers inside the helicopter as he believed these three saw the classified documents.
Later, when all the deceased were checked, he was speculated dead as well. He was placed in a body bag like the others who didn’t make it. But another soldier recognized him and called for help. A doctor came and checked him but concluded he was lifeless.
When the doctor was about to zip up the body bag, Benavidez mustered his last energy and spat in the doctor’s face. The doctor immediately reacted, “I think he’ll make it.”
Benavidez had a total of 37 wounds from the six-hour fight with the enemy’s battalion. He was then evacuated and sent back to Fort Sam Houston’s Brooke Army Medical Center, where he eventually recovered.
Highest Honor for the Real-life American Rambo
In 1973, after more detailed accounts became available, Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Ralph R. Drake insisted that Benavidez receive the Medal of Honor.
By then, however, the time limit on the medal had expired. An appeal to Congress resulted in an exemption for Benavidez, but the Army Decorations Board denied him an upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor.
The Army board required an eyewitness account from someone present during the action. Benavidez believed that there were no living witnesses of the “Six Hours in Hell.”
Fortunately, in 1980, O’Conner, who lived in Fiji for a long time, wrote a ten-page report about Benevidez’s gallantry.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan (R-California) presented Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez his Medal of Honor.
“ Sergeant BENAVIDEZ’s gallant choice to join voluntarily his comrades who were in critical straits, to expose himself constantly to withering enemy fire, and his refusal to be stopped despite numerous severe wounds, saved the lives of at least eight men. His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.” — Medal of Honor Citation
Benavidez died on November 29, 1998, because of respiratory failure and diabetes. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
“You have never lived ‘till you almost die. And it is us, Veterans, that pray for peace. Most of all, especially the wounded, because we have to suffer the wounds of war.” — MSG Roy Benevidez, 1991 speech