A Botched Mission in the Vietnam War Was Crucible for Special Forces Soldier Benavidez

By Henderson, Matthew Lee | Army, April 2016 | Go to article overview

A Botched Mission in the Vietnam War Was Crucible for Special Forces Soldier Benavidez


Henderson, Matthew Lee, Army


A Botched Mission in the Vietnam War Was Crucible for Special Forces Soldier Benavidez Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines. Eric Blehm. Crown Publishers. 304 pages. $27

Eric Blehm's Legend is a look back at the Vietnam War's special operations forces with an emphasis on one soldier, then-Staff Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, and the battle that earned him the Medal of Honor. This book is a combination of history, biography and exhortation. Blehm writes with unapologetic admiration for the men whose story he is telling. Family and classic American values are secondary themes that seem to underpin the soldiers who are the subjects of this book. Legend also tells a story that is longer in scope than the war itself: the extended fight for Benavidez to be awarded a belated Medal of Honor from President Ronald Reagan, in 1981.

The bulk of this book is dedicated to one Special Forces mission that takes place in Cambodia on May 2, 1968, when a 12-man unit is ordered to steal a North Vietnamese truck from the Ho Chi Minh Trail in neutral territory. The mission goes terribly wrong, with the U.S. Special Forces and their Civilian Irregular Defense Group counterparts inserted in the immediate vicinity of a massive, fortified concentration of North Vietnamese Army soldiers. The team is discovered and then comes under withering fire, sustaining fatalities and serious injuries. One helicopter rescue attempt after another fails to reach them, and they are left on the ground and under fire for hours on end despite air support from fighters and gunships.

As reports come in to Loc Ninh, just over the border in Vietnam, Benavidez grabs a medical bag and jumps aboard Huey Mad Dog 1, just back from the fight and ready to make another attempt at the pickup zone. As it lifts off, Benavidez realizes that he forgot his weapon. When he reaches the pickup zone, Benavidez jumps out of the helicopter unarmed and under heavy enemy fire to rush to the rescue of the Special Forces team.

Despite sustaining injuries so severe that he is mistaken for dead and placed into a body bag upon his return, Benavidez saves the remaining team members and retrieves classified documents that might have revealed the highly secret presence of the U.S. in neutral Cambodia.

While the May 2 mission is clearly the focus of Legend, its presentation is made meaningful and enjoyable by Blehm's writing style and the way he prepares his readers for his subject. Blehm's narrative is very easy to follow, with climaxes and tension built in that make its pacing reminiscent of fiction. There are very few pages that readers of Legend will have to force themselves through.

Blehm blends military history with biography in an extremely effective manner, beginning with Benavidez's childhood. After he was orphaned at a young age, Benavidez was raised by his uncle. An aggressive streak aggravated by having to battle racism contrasted with a solid, loving background in his uncle's home to mark his early years. While he did not finish high school, a strong work ethic was ingrained in him through arduous summer work on Colorado farms and then work in a local tire shop. …

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