Hero awarded Medal of Honor for rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire

Air cavalry helicopters in the Vietnam War
Air cavalry helicopters in the Vietnam War

I’ve finally read enough about World War 2 and the Korean War to move on to the Vietnam war. In this war, America is fighting communists from North Vietnam who are invading the democracy of South Vietnam to make their country communist. While reading several books, I found a story about American soldiers who risked their lives for others while under fire from the enemy.

The story I found was in the book “Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines“.

An American Special Forces team of 12 people – 3 Americans, and 9 Motagnard natives – was discovered by North Vietnamese communists behind enemy lines in Cambodia. After a short firefight, they called for extraction. They were quickly surrounded by about 1000 enemy soldiers. It was extremely difficult for the helicopters to extract them. Some the Special Forces men and helicopter crews were wounded or killed during the extraction attempt.

I wanted to mention especially two of the men who were killed from the Special Operations team:

  • SFC Leroy N. Wright, Newark, NJ (Dist Svc Cross)
  • SSG Lloyd F. Mousseau, Cudahy, CA (Dist Svc Cross)

Here’s some more detail about Leroy Wright, the team leader:

Leroy Wright was the leader of a 12 man special operations recon team inserted secretly by helicopter into Northern Cambodia about 60 miles NW of Saigon. His mission was to capture an NVA truck and return with the truck to Vietnam with a load of Russian supplies to prove give physical proof that the Viet Cong were being supplied through Cambodia.

Unfortunately Wright’s team was landed in the midst of a large force of hundreds of NVA regulars deployed in depth around their landing zone. They were compromised when their hiding place was discovered by two NVA soldiers. Lloyd Mousseau, assistant team leader killed these men sliently but a shot was fired by one of them alerting the other NVA in the vicinity.

Wright requested permission for extraction but was ordered to continue the mission by his superiors in Vietnam. He followed his orders and moved towards his objective, but soon encountered a patrol of about 12 NVA. In a brief but noisy fight his team wiped out the NVA partrol without any casualties to the team. He then immediately called for emergency extraction and rushed the team to the planned pickup zone.

At the pickup zone Wright encountered numerous NVA troops and became locked in a fire fight which killed or wounded all of his men. The emergency extraction force, a flight of four UH1C gunships, call sign Maddogs, and four UH1H slicks, call sign Greyhounds, soon approached the pickup zone but it was driven away by intense and accurate enemy fire that killed one crew member, Michael Craig, and wounded others.

On the ground Wright moved about his beleagured team encouraging them and repositioning them to defend the extraction landing zone. While redeploying one group of his men he was hit by enemy fire and lost the use of his legs. Then two enemy grenades fell between him and his teammates, endangering them all. Wright threw one back at the enemy but only had time to roll his body onto the second grenade before it exploded lifting him into the air. Wright survived this explosion and fought on for a time firing his weapon until he was killed by a shot in his head.

I also wanted to mention the pilot from second Huey helicopter that was shot down:

Here are some more details about McKibben:

Warrant Officer McKibben distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 2 May 1968 as aircraft commander of a helicopter supporting ground operations near Loc Ninh. A small reconnaissance team was pursued by a numerically superior enemy force, and Mister McKibben immediately extracted it. A larger team, replacing the first, was quickly surrounded by two companies of North Vietnamese Army troops and he volunteered to attempt a second extraction mission.

At the landing zone a supporting gunship was shot down by the murderous enemy fire. Despite extreme hazard to his safety, Mister McKibben braved the savage fusillade to land and successfully rescue the downed crew. After refueling, he returned to the area and prepared to rescue the ground force. Although he was informed that two helicopters had sustained casualties to their crews attempting pickups during his absence, he fearlessly maneuvered through a hail of fire, reached the landing zone and began loading troops. The enemy force concentrated their full firepower on his craft, but he refused to take off until all survivors were on board. As he prepared to fly out of the landing zone, he was instantly killed by an enemy bullet passing through the cockpit.

Please take a moment to remember the men who died that day, fighting communism in Vietnam so that we could enjoy our freedom from tyranny. We will remember them.

But I do have a positive story. A Green Beret Special Forces soldier who heard the request for help from the Special Forces team was awarded the Medal of Honor for helping to extract the wounded while under fire himself. His name was Roy Benavidez.

Here is his Medal of Honor citation:

Master Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Roy P. BENAVIDEZ United States Army, distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely valorous actions on 2 May 1968 while assigned to Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Republic of Vietnam.

On the morning of 2 May 1968, a 12-man Special Forces Reconnaissance Team was inserted by helicopters of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company in a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam to gather intelligence information about the confirmed large-scale enemy activity. This area was controlled and routinely patrolled by the North Vietnamese Army. After a short period of time on the ground, the team met heavy enemy resistance, and requested emergency extraction. Three helicopters attempted extraction but were unable to land due to intense enemy small arms and anti-aircraft fire.

Sergeant BENAVIDEZ was at the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh monitoring the operation by radio when these helicopters, of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, returned to off-load wounded crew members and to assess aircraft damage. Sergeant BENAVIDEZ voluntarily boarded a returning aircraft to assist in another extraction attempt. Realizing that all the team members were either dead or wounded and unable to move to the pickup zone, he directed the aircraft to a nearby clearing where he jumped from the hovering helicopter, and ran approximately 75 meters under withering small arms fire to the crippled team.

Prior to reaching the team’s position he was wounded in his right leg, face, and head. Despite these painful injuries, he took charge, repositioning the team members and directing their fire to facilitate the landing of an extraction aircraft, and the loading of wounded and dead team members. He then threw smoke canisters to direct the aircraft to the team’s position. Despite his severe wounds and under intense enemy fire, he carried and dragged half of the wounded team members to the awaiting aircraft. He then provided protective fire by running alongside the aircraft as it moved to pick up the remaining team members. As the enemy’s fire intensified, he hurried to recover the body and classified documents on the dead team leader.

When he reached the leader’s body, Sergeant BENAVIDEZ was severely wounded by small arms fire in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. At nearly the same moment, the aircraft pilot was mortally wounded, and his helicopter crashed. Although in extremely critical condition due to his multiple wounds, Sergeant BENAVIDEZ secured the classified documents and made his way back to the wreckage, where he aided the wounded out of the overturned aircraft, and gathered the stunned survivors into a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to his weary men, reinstilling in them a will to live and fight. Facing a buildup of enemy opposition with a beleaguered team, Sergeant BENAVIDEZ mustered his strength, began calling in tactical air strikes and directed the fire from supporting gunships to suppress the enemy’s fire and so permit another extraction attempt.

He was wounded again in his thigh by small arms fire while administering first aid to a wounded team member just before another extraction helicopter was able to land. His indomitable spirit kept him going as he began to ferry his comrades to the craft. On his second trip with the wounded, he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, he sustained additional wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary. He then continued under devastating fire to carry the wounded to the helicopter. Upon reaching the aircraft, he spotted and killed two enemy soldiers who were rushing the craft from an angle that prevented the aircraft door gunner from firing upon them. With little strength remaining, he made one last trip to the perimeter to ensure that all classified material had been collected or destroyed, and to bring in the remaining wounded.

Only then, in extremely serious condition from numerous wounds and loss of blood, did he allow himself to be pulled into the extraction aircraft. Sergeant BENAVIDEZ’ 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.

If you’re looking for a good book on helicopter operations in the Vietnam war, I’ve just finished “To the Limit: An Air Cav Huey Pilot in Vietnam” and really enjoyed it. Regarding special operations in the Vietnam war, I just finished “Uncommon Valor: The Recon Company that Earned Five Medals of Honor and Included America’s Most Decorated Green Beret” which was almost as good.

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