The Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez Memorial Highway became the official name for Hwy. 71 from El Campo north to the Colorado County line Saturday with a ceremony at the El Campo Civic Center.
Active duty personnel, veterans, Benavidez’ family along with representatives of the county’s two other Medal of Honor recipients, officials and the general public gathered to see the road signage unveiled and then pay homage to the soldier’s legacy.
“Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez is considered one of our best,” said Master Sgt. Juan A. Barocio of the 5th Special Forces Group of his fellow Green Berets. He traveled from his post at Fort Campbell, Ky., to help with the dedication.
Benavidez served during the Vietnam era, earning the Medal of Honor for volunteering for a helicopter rescue mission west of Loc Ninh on May 2, 1968 saving men and classified documents despite overwhelming enemy fire (please see related story Page 8-A). Honored throughout the nation, the highway marker is the first El Campo monument in the city Benavidez called home. The National Guard Armory south of the city, however, bears his name as do stones at American Legion Post 251.
He didn’t serve with Benavidez, but Leroy Bacak of El Campo served a partial tour of duty in Vietnam. He came because Benavidez “put his life (on the line) trying to save somebody else’s. That’s the main thing.”
David Ramirez of Wharton, a 1992 Wharton High School graduate also came. “It’s our duty as veterans to support our fellow veterans,” he said. Previously an Army sergeant in air defense, he now serves as a Legion Rider for Wharton’s Post 87.
Saturday’s ceremony was divided into two parts. A brief sign unveiling outside the Civic Center and then a longer service in the main hall.
The eldest of Benavidez’ three children, Denise Prochazka addressed the crowd inside. “We made a promise to Mom to continue on with her support, to continue on with Dad’s legacy,” she said before publicly issuing a challenge to what she called “the great eight,” Benavidez’ grandchildren, to do the same. “Here is the future legacy of Hilaria and Roy Benavidez. Help then take the road and make this journey a successful one,” she added.
Benavidez died in 1998. His extended family still lives in El Campo. His widow Hilaria “Lala” Benavidez died March 14.
State Rep. Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton) championed the bill to make the road designation possible. He spoke briefly of his memories of the man as did El Campo City Councilman Chris Barbee.
Fred Barbee, his father and then publisher of the El Campo Leader-News, wrote the story which helped bring forth a missing eyewitness to Benavidez’ actions in Vietnam after it went worldwide. That witness was able to help verify accounts and ultimately led to Benavidez receiving the Medal of Honor in 1983.
Benavidez who retired in 1976 traveled across the nation and the world, generally without compensation beyond travel cost, to speak at military posts and schools touting the importance of education as much as military service.
“Roy felt his service did not end in retirement,” Barbee said
A clip of Benavidez speaking in 1991 was shown as part of the service. “There’ll never been enough paper to print the money nor enough gold in Fort Knox for me to have to keep me from doing what I did,” he said in it. “I’m proud to be an American and even prouder to earn the privilege to wear the Green Beret.”
University of Houston Downtown President Juan Sanchez Munoz spoke of Benavidez’ dedication to encouraging others to better their education.
All chairs were filled in the Civic Center’s main hall with others standing in the back throughout the lengthy ceremony.
“I’m pleased with the attendance today. I appreciate everybody coming,” said Noel Benavidez, Roy Benavidez’ son.
Event organizer Sarah Hudgins agreed. “It was excellent. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.”