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Madam Speaker, America is about people. Who we are and what we are is because of the people who are Americans. They are individuals who have lived and died and influenced the rest of us because of their tenacious spirit and determination.
Madam Speaker, I am a history fan. I love American history. I also love Texas history. Not the history of dates and movements, but the history of the lives of individual Americans who have made a difference.
Roy Benavidez was one of those Americans. Roy Benavidez was born in south Texas in a small town called Cuero on August 5, 1935. He was the son of a sharecropper. He was an orphan, and he had mixed blood of Yaqui Indian and Hispanic. He was raised by his uncle after he lost his own family, and eventually he dropped out of school when he was 15. He was a migrant farm worker to take care of his family. He worked all over Texas and part of Colorado in the sugar beet fields and the cotton fields.
Eventually he decided to join the Texas National Guard and then the United States Army in 1955. He joined up in Houston, Texas. And in 1965, he was sent to Vietnam as a member of the 82nd Airborne.
While serving as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Army, he stepped on a land mine in South Vietnam. U.S. Army doctors at Brooke Army Medical Center told him he would never walk again. But he did walk. And not only that, he volunteered and returned back to Vietnam as a staff sergeant in the Army Special Forces; we call them the Green Berets.
On May 2, 1968, his life and the lives of his fellow troopers changed forever. It is a story that is almost unbelievable.
On the morning of May 2, 1968, a 12-man Special Forces team was inserted into Cambodia to observe a large-scale North Vietnamese troop movement. They were eventually discovered by the enemy. Most of the team members were very close friends of Roy Benavidez, who was the forward operating officer in Loc Ninh, Vietnam.
Three helicopters were sent to rescue the 12-man team, but they were unable to land because of the heavy enemy concentration. When a second attempt was made to reach the stranded team, Benavidez jumped on board one of the helicopters armed only with a bowie knife.
As the helicopters reached the landing zone, Benavidez realized the team members were likely too severely wounded to move to the helicopters, so by himself he ran through heavy small-arms fire to the wounded soldiers. He was wounded himself in the leg, the face, and the head in the process. He reorganized the team and signaled helicopters to land. Despite his injuries, Benavidez was able to carry off half the wounded men to the helicopters. He then collected the classified documents held by a now-dead team leader. As he completed this task, he was wounded again by an exploding grenade in the back, and then he was shot in the stomach.
At that moment, the waiting helicopter pilot was also mortally wounded, and the helicopter crashed. Benavidez ran to collect the stunned crash survivors and form a perimeter. He directed air support. He ordered another extraction attempt, and was wounded again when shot in the thigh. At this point he was losing so much blood from his face wounds that his vision became blurred. Finally, another helicopter landed and as Benavidez carried a wounded friend to it, he was clubbed in the head with a rifle butt by an enemy soldier and then bayoneted twice.
Madam Speaker, Benavidez was wounded in that one battle in that one day 37 times. He had seven gunshot wounds, he had mortar fragments in his back, and two bayonet wounds. But he saved the lives of eight of his fellow troopers.
Later he was presumed dead and zipped up in a body bag; but right before they zipped up the bag, he spit in the doctor's face letting the doctor know yes, he was still alive. Amazing people, these young guns of the Green Berets.
Madam Speaker, this is a photograph of Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez. He eventually recovered from all of those wounds and received the Distinguished Service Cross, and many years later Ronald Reagan presented him with the medal he wears around his neck in this photograph, the Congressional Medal of Honor. President Reagan stated here in Washington, D.C., on presentation of that medal that if this were a movie, no one would really believe it could ever happen. What Roy Benavidez did that day is unbelievable. I will insert the Medal of Honor citation for Roy Benavidez.
After he retired from the military, this seventh-grade dropout went around America talking about the importance of education. He talked to young gang members, he talked to the Hispanic youth, telling them to stay in school and get an education. He was an amazing individual. A Navy ship has been named after him. Several elementary schools in Texas have been named after Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, and even a toy company has issued the Roy Benavidez G.I. Joe action figure.
In Texas there are a disproportionately high number of Hispanic Americans who volunteer for the military. They are American Patriots. Some legal immigrants even join and serve in Iraq and Afghanistan in the hope they will become U.S. citizens. Madam Speaker, as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, one of those great Hispanic Americans was Roy Benavidez, and he lived the American dream the way he wanted to.
And that's just the way it is.
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