Author Eric Blehm has found his niche- books about the brave souls who serve in the military and do astounding things. I previously read Fearless which is about Navy Seal Adam Brown. It was a very good book that also highlighted his personal struggles and his faith.
Blehm’s newest book is Legend which focuses on Green Beret Roy Benavidez and his role in a rescue mission of a special forces team behind enemy lines in Vietnam. Its focus is not a narrow, so to speak, as in Fearless. He provides background on other key figures and Special Ops in that area to a far greater extent. Benavidez’ faith (he was Roman Catholic) is present but not as prevalent a subject as Adam Brown’s.
Legend begins with Benavidez childhood and early adulthood. His was a hard life in a difficult part of the country. His was an immigrant family, and he lost both parents to TB at a young age. As a result his uncle and grandfather played significant roles in shaping him. Living with them meant hearing their stories including the adage, “When someone needs help, you help them.” This Good Samaritan mentality was consistently worked into his heart. His body was made strong by the extended summers working in fields as the family did migrant work.
Losing his parents did leave him angry which led to a number of problems at school, and into his early career in the military. It was one of those events that led him into an office after striking a drunk and obnoxious officer. There he saw the motto of West Point, “Duty, Honor, Country”, and took it as his own. His honesty meant a demotion instead of charges. Eventually Benavidez would join the 82nd Airborne.
He career seemed over when during his first tour in Vietnam he stepped on a mine. Amazingly he was not killed and didn’t lose any limbs. But he did have a severe back and spinal cord injury. They thought he would never walk again- but he did. He kept talking them out of discharging him. Soon he had a desk job, and then set his eyes on becoming a Green Beret. Walking led to jogging (and getting off pain medication) and to running with a pack. But he had to re-qualify for jumping. To be over 30 and recovering from such injuries and qualify to be a Green Beret is quite astounding.
Blehm then focuses on the history of Special Ops in Cambodia. Both sides violated the neutrality of Cambodia. The North did first with the Ho Chi Min Trail. The South, and the U.S., did so in reaction to stem the tide of troops and weapons. Almost all the work was done by Special Ops inserted and removed by helicopter teams. All of this was strictly off the books to maintain plausible deny-ability- no paper trail.
In May 1968 a team was inserted into Cambodia with a goal of proving the presence of the NVA. For some reason the Cambodians didn’t seem to think they could send any of their own people there. They were to capture a soldier and perhaps one of the Russian-made trucks.
Unfortunately the NVA had adapted and constructed hunter teams to counter act the Special Forces teams sent in. Worse no one realized they were basically inserting the team into the heart of an NVA division. After being discovered everything went wonky. Blehm’s account of the battle and rescue attempts is harrowing.
Benavidez had been sleeping in after a late night when he awoke to discover a mission had gone incredibly wrong. He discovered one of his friends was leading the mission. One rescue attempt had already failed miserably and what remained of the team was surrounded in a field, taking shelter among some trees. At the base Roy helped unload a chopper. The chopper was refueling and reloading to go back, but without a belly man. He quickly decided to help them, and possibly his friend on the ground.
It was a rash decision because all he had was a medical bag, his bottle of Tabasco for breakfast seasoning, and a recon knife. That’s it! Never has a soldier done so much with so little. The harrowing story resumes as Benavidez survives numerous wounds and a helicopter crash to save the lives of the remaining team. He took over on the ground to establish defenses while rockets and napalm rained down around them until the rescue helicopter could gather them all up.
It is a moving story. It is a powerful story. As in Lone Survivor what a person does to survive can seem more like an action movie at times. Here Benavidez does it to keep others alive. Although he didn’t get his Medal of Honor until 1981, it was much deserved. And his story deserves to be read.
[I received a promotional copy for the purposes of review.]