Stories of Special Forces Dangerous Missions
Special Forces Part 6
Roy P. Benavidez Master Sergeant Vietnam
Special Forces Part 6 – Master Sergeant Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez (August 5, 1935 – November 29, 1998) was a member of the United States Army Special Forces (Studies and Observations Group) and retired United States Army Master Sergeant who received the Medal of Honor for his valorous actions in combat near Lộc Ninh, South Vietnam on May 2, 1968.
Benavidez next began training for the elite Army Special Forces. Once qualified and accepted, he became a member of the 5th Special Forces Group, and the Studies and Observations Group (SOG).
In 1965 he was sent to South Vietnam as an advisor to an Army of the Republic of Vietnam infantry regiment. He stepped on a landmine during a patrol and was evacuated to the United States, where doctors at Fort Sam Houston concluded he would never walk again and began preparing his medical discharge papers.
As Benavidez noted in his 1981 MOH acceptance speech, stung by the diagnosis, as well as flag burnings and media criticisms of the US military presence in Vietnam he saw on TV, he began an unsanctioned nightly training ritual in an attempt to redevelop his ability to walk.
Getting out of bed at night (against doctors’ orders), Benavidez would crawl using his elbows and chin to a wall near his bedside and (with the encouragement of his fellow patients, many of whom were permanently paralyzed and/or missing limbs), he would prop himself against the wall and attempt to lift himself unaided, starting by wiggling his toes, then his feet, and then eventually (after several months of excruciating practice that by his own admission often left him in tears) pushing himself up the wall with his ankles and legs. After over a year of hospitalization, Benavidez walked out of the hospital in July 1966, with his wife at his side, determined to return to combat in Vietnam. Despite continuing pain from his wounds, he returned to South Vietnam in January 1968.
Six Hours of Hell
Special Forces Part 6 – On May 2, 1968, a 12-man Special Forces patrol, which included nine Montagnard tribesmen, was surrounded by an NVA infantry battalion of about 1,000 men. Benavidez heard the radio appeal for help and boarded a helicopter to respond. Armed only with a knife, he jumped from the helicopter carrying his medical bag and ran to help the trapped patrol. Benavidez “distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely valorous actions… and because of his 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.” At one point in the battle, an NVA soldier accosted him and stabbed him with a bayonet. Benavidez pulled it out, yanked out his own knife, killed the NVA soldier and kept going, leaving his knife in the dead soldier’s body. After the battle, he was evacuated to the base camp, examined, and thought to be dead. As he was placed in a body bag among the other dead in body bags, he was suddenly recognized by a friend who called for help. A doctor came and examined him but believed Benavidez was dead. The doctor was about to zip up the body bag when Benavidez spat in his face, alerting the doctor that he was alive.
The six-hour battle left Benavidez with seven major gunshot wounds, twenty-eight shrapnel holes, and both his arms were slashed by a bayonet. He had shrapnel in his head, scalp, shoulder, buttocks, feet, and legs, his right lung was destroyed, and he had injuries to his mouth and back of his head from being clubbed with a rifle butt. A bullet shot from an AK-47 entered his back and exited just beneath his heart. Benavidez was evacuated to Fort Sam Houston’s Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and he spent almost a year in hospitals recovering from his injuries.
Roy Benavidez In His Own Words
Benavidez’s commander felt that he deserved the Medal of Honor for his valor in saving eight lives, but he put Roy in for the Distinguished Service Cross because the process for awarding a Medal of Honor would have taken much longer, and his commander was sure Benavidez would die before he got it. The recommendation for the Distinguished Service Cross was rushed through approval channels. On September 10, 1968, while still recuperating from his wounds at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Roy was visited by General William C. Westmoreland, then the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, who presented the Distinguished Service Cross to Benavidez.
Along with the Distinguished Service Cross, Benavidez also received a Purple Heart for his wounds. In 1969, he was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, and in 1972 he was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas where he remained until his retirement from the Army.
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”. He then read the official award citation.
Vietnam War: Battle of Plei Me
The Plei Me camp was established by the United States Army Special Forces (SF) 25 miles south of Pleiku city and less than 20 miles from the Cambodia border in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Plei Me was one of many Special Forces camps scattered around the Central Highlands and charged with gaining and maintaining the support of the Montagnard  for the South Vietnamese war effort, and gathering intelligence about the infiltration into South Vietnam of North Vietnamese soldiers along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
In 1965 the camp was manned by more than 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) soldiers—local Montagnard  people. Twelve (12) American soldiers from the 5th SF Group and 14 Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) SF assisting in this endeavor. At the time of the attack on Plei Me, about 300 Montagnards, 14 Vietnamese, and 10 Americans were inside the camp, the others were on patrol or stationed at nearby listening posts.
The Siege of Plei Me
The first indication of an impending attack was about 19:00 hours on October 19, when a Montagnard patrol was attacked near Plei Me.
At 22:00, one PAVN Company overran an outpost southwest of the camp. The listening post was about 2,000 yards away and it was determined that the 25 men that died, did so only after their ammunition ran out. [Source: Capt. Harold M. Moore, commander of the Special Forces unit]
After nightfall had cloaked the surrounding tree line in darkness and introduced a new cycle of jungle noises, a muffled clatter of rifle fire suddenly erupted and then died away. An advancing NVA infantry column had brushed past one of the ambush positions. Later another distant crash of gunfire exploded the tropical night, this time accompanied by a barrage of mortar shells and recoilless rifle rounds sending up geysers of dirt throughout the compound. Shortly after midnight, the PAVN attacked with approximately 1,000 NVA from the north, west, and east with small arms, mortars, and recoilless rifles, with some attackers reaching the defensive perimeter of the camp.
The NVA overran the southern outpost in barely twenty minutes. Shortly after midnight, the North Vietnamese charged the camp itself. The North Vietnamese shock troops ran forward, shouting and firing rapid bursts from their assault rifles. The bunkered machine guns rattled out concentrated bursts of grazing fire aimed at the first wave of sappers busily piercing the perimeter’s barriers. Pith helmets and kit bags rolled across the open prewire zone as the bullets picked up running figures and flung them to the ground in writhing agony. Bodies were piling up like driftwood around the bent posts and bails of twisted barbed wire. Swiftly the NVA rammed explosive-filled pipe sections through the obstacles, and a series of detonations shook the fringes of the camp.
The NVA came pouring through the smoking gaps pitching grenades and blazing away with their submachine guns. Red tracer lines of machine-gun fire murderously converged to hammer against these packed clusters of onrushing attackers. Scores of men were skimmed from their ranks, collapsing and staggering as they fell behind to topple onto the battered earth. Flares and rockets flashed brilliant mixes of shifting colors and crossed shadows as they lighted the blackened landscape.
The American commander at Plei Me, Captain Harold M. Moore, called in airstrikes which arrived at 3:45 A.M., the afterburners of jet engines could be seen darting through the darkened, overcast skies. Exploding yellow- white globular balls of jellied gasoline spewed over the jungled outskirts of the camp.
The northwest corner bunker was under direct assault. Its defenders desperately fought off each charge from behind shrapnel-riddled sandbags and blood-washed log piles. A red dawn smeared with smoke and haze flooded the battlefield with the half-light of morning. At six o’clock a recoilless rifle round burst through the bunker aperture. Splintered wood and limbs were thrown into the air, and a final NVA lunge for the key position was made.
The exhausted Special Forces, their jungle fatigues ripped and their webbing stripped of grenades, ordered tired and bloodstained tribesmen into the breach. The bunker managed to hold.
At daybreak, a flight of unmarked medical evacuation helicopters arrived, escorted by several gunships. They descended into the smoldering camp to drop off a surgeon and pick up some of the wounded. Suddenly one of the hovering helicopters was hit and spiraled into the jungle below. The weary Special Forces team scratched together a rescue party, and sent it out in a vain attempt to reach the downed aircraft. After a harrowing encounter with an NVA machine-gun nest, during which one of the Special Forces sergeants was mortally wounded, the shaken survivors fell back into camp. By contrast, the larger combat sweep patrol was notified to rejoin the camp and walked back through the gates without incident.
Maj. Charlie A. Beckwith’s  Special Forces unit known as Project DELTA, reinforced by two companies of the special 91st ARVN Airborne Ranger Battalion, received word to reinforce the camp on the afternoon of October 20. They gathered at Pleiku airfield at five o’clock that evening, just thirty minutes after a 1,200-man ARVN mechanized relief force headed south on Highway 14.
The mechanized group would run into a major ambush halfway to Plei Me, would suffer considerable personnel and vehicular losses, and would not reach the camp until October 25. Lack of helicopter lift forced Major Beckwith to spend the night planning. On the morning of October 21, Project DELTA was airlifted by a series of three flights into the thick tropical forest four and a half miles outside Plei Me.
Major Beckwith wisely decided to move his men due east a few miles before turning south toward the camp. The force slowly cut its way through the dense, vine-tangled jungle. The torturous trek was extremely difficult, and soon tired arms and heat exhaustion were reducing the strength of Beckwith’s command. In mid-afternoon they ran into a three-man NVA recoilless rifle crew, resulting in turning deeper into the jungle.
By five o’clock they were only thirty-five minutes from Plei Me, but the ARVN rangers couldn’t decide what to do. Major Beckwith personally went forward with his machete and started cutting a trail to con5. The relief force consisted of the 3d ARVN Armored Cavalry Squadron with M41 tanks and M8 armored cars, the 1st Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment, and the 21st and 22d ARVN Ranger Battalions continue the advance.
As night fell they formed a perimeter and prepared to enter camp the next morning. At 1:40 A.M. on October 22, an Air Force A-1E Skyraider was shot down over the camp. The pilot was seen parachuting out but was never found. A second plane was lost, but its pilot was eventually rescued.
Early that morning Project DELTA pushed through a brief firefight to move into the camp, where Major Beckwith took over command. At one o’clock in the afternoon, a three-company force from the camp passed their wire and got into a skirmish line to clear a nearby hill. A bypassed heavy machine gun suddenly ripped into them, throwing the force into confusion, killing Special Forces Captain Thomas Pusser and twelve indigenous soldiers, and wounding scores more. The rest of the composite clearing force retreated.
The 91st ARVN Airborne Ranger Battalion’s shortcomings continued to plague their performance the next day. During an assault on two other machine-gun positions, one NVA soldier suddenly charged the force. Before he was killed, the rangers fled back in disorder. On October 24, a recovery party managed to pull in the bodies from this botched attack. On the morning of October 25, a commando squad, led by two Special Forces flamethrower sergeants, charged light machine guns surrounding the camp. Although the flamethrowers malfunctioned, the commandos destroyed one of the bunkers. That evening the armored-infantry task force from Pleiku arrived in the camp.
Although clearing operations would continue for several days, the battle was over.
The morning after the ARVN mechanized force showed up, a helicopter touched down at the camp carrying several United States Army combat officers. Col. Elvy B. Roberts, commander of the 1st Brigade (Airborne), 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), stepped onto the sun-scorched clay of the Plei Me Special Forces camp at nine o’clock on the morning of October 26, 1965, for a full briefing. He had moved an entire American infantry brigade to Camp Holloway outside Pleiku, and the rest of the division was now located at An Khe. The conflict in Vietnam was no longer a Special Forces affair.
At the beginning of 1965, Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s MACV command determined the urgent need for immediate and responsive combat service support.
During a week of savage fighting, defenders of the besieged outpost repelled repeated NVA attacks. The tide of the battle turned finally with the arrival of several hundred South Vietnamese reinforcements and numerous Allied air strikes. NVA losses were heavy.
With the camp secured, General William Westmoreland, senior U.S. military commander in Saigon, decided to seize the advantage and send in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) to “find, fix, and defeat the enemy forces” that had threatened Plei Me.
This decision would result in the November battle of Ia Drang Valley, the war’s bloodiest battle to date, and immortalized by the book and movie titled, We Were Soldiers.
Plei Me – KIA and WIA
Listed below that was verifiable. More were mentioned but not verified.
Captain Thomas Wilson Pusser, KIA – virtualwall.org/dp/PusserTW01a.htm
SFC Joseph Bailey, KIA – virtualwall.org/db/BaileyJD02a.htm
Sgt. Daniel Shea, WIA
1. The Degar, also known as the Montagnard, are the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French and is a carryover from the French colonial period in Vietnam.
2. Charles Alvin “Charlie” Beckwith (January 22, 1929 – June 13, 1994), known as Chargin’ Charlie, was a career US Army Special Forces officer best remembered as helping create Delta Force, the premier counterterrorism, and asymmetrical warfare unit of the U.S. Army. He served in the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War, and attained the rank of Colonel before his retirement.
3. Events were taken from several sources to include; the DOD official reports, US Army Historical Museum records, US Special Forces battle records, Stars and Stripes, and Beckwith’s book.
3. Photo Credit: Stars and Stripes
Special Forces Article Series
Special Forces Part 6: Their Dangerous Missions [You’re Here]
These articles are brought to you for educational purposes by Jeff Daley – A Vietnam Veteran