Consider the trajectory of two men in uniform, a century apart.

Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a Green Beret already shot in the face and ripped apart by grenade shrapnel, watched the helicopter full of the wounded comrades he saved roar into the sizzling Vietnamese air -- and then fall out of the sky.

It happened during the "six hours in hell," he would later say of the 1968 battle, when he held his intestines in his hand, called in airstrikes and loaded the wounded and dead onto a second helicopter. Benavidez said he had so many injuries and was so bloodied that he was mistaken for a dead man and stuffed into a body bag until he spat in a doctor's face.

President Ronald Reagan hung the Medal of Honor around his neck in 1981, saying his survival that day, during an assault of about 1,000 North Vietnamese fighters, was so impossible that if it were a movie it would be rejected as laughably over the top.

Then there is John Bell Hood, who resigned his Army commission at the onset of the Civil War to lead Confederate insurrectionists against the United States. Flashes of brilliance in his earlier campaigns were overshadowed by "reckless" command that sped the fall of Atlanta, one historian wrote, and his losses at the Battle of Franklin were so disastrous that it has been called the Pickett's Charge of the West.

But in Benavidez's home state of Texas, where he was raised as the orphaned son of a poor sharecropper who went on to be honored by the president, it is the Kentuckian name of "Hood" that everyone knows.

Hood is the namesake of Fort Hood -- one of the world's largest military installations -- nestled in Central Texas.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy group, is urging the Army to rename the base after Benavidez, the home-state hero. The plea comes amid a national reckoning of how to grapple with Confederate symbolism that haunts the American identity more than a century and a half after Appomattox.

But the movement to cleanse racist symbols is not the primary motivation for installing Benavidez's name at the gates of Fort Hood, said Jorge Haynes, a member of the Latin American league.

"It's about someone who put his life on the line and suffered every day of his life after that," he said, adding that more contemporary figures should be considered.

Guy Gabaldon, a Marine who single-handedly persuaded more than a thousand Japanese to surrender on Saipan, would be another ideal candidate he said. So would any number of Navajo and Comanche troops whose languages contributed to victory, the heavily decorated Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd Infantry Regiment and the African American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

What they have in common: they are all minority service members representing comrades with far less recognition than generals who committed sedition.

"It's making the record complete," Haynes said. "There are other heroes."

It is unclear whether McCarthy has received the league's request; an Army spokeswoman did not return comment.

The 2020 defense budget includes a resolution to ban installations from being named after Confederate icons but it does not call for renaming existing bases.

Base names have drawn on historical figures, but between the world wars, politicians and other figures jostled to name the installations, the Army has said, leading states to contribute names for consideration.

Texas produced Hood, though he was only wounded there before the Civil War and later led a Texas regiment. He lived out his postwar life in New Orleans.

But Benavidez is 100% Texas, born in small-town Cuero, southwest of Houston. He was the son of a Mexican American sharecropper and a Taqui Indian mother, and he lost both before he was 9 years old. He dropped out of school to pick beets and cotton, enlisted in the Army at 19 and served in Korea.

The first of five Purple Hearts came on his first tour in Vietnam in 1964, when a land mine shredded his body in an explosion. Doctors said he was unlikely to walk again. Then he became a Green Beret.

Four years later, his battlefield exploits became instant legend among Army Special Forces.

When he heard over the radio a 12-man team -- three Green Berets and nine Montagnard tribesmen -- was ambushed by hundreds of insurgents, with screams of "get us out of here" going unanswered by a helicopter unable to land, Benavidez rushed to the Huey without a weapon.

He leaped from the helicopter before it touched down, ran 75 meters to the stranded group and was shot multiple times before he got there. He collected sensitive documents from the dead team leader, organized a defense and loaded the team members onto the helicopter. Enemy gunfire raked the Huey, killing the pilot. The helicopter cratered and burned.

Benavidez pulled the men from the wreckage, gave them water and called in airstrikes. As Benavidez later led them to another helicopter, enemy troops shattered his jaw with a rifle butt and prodded him with bayonets. He stabbed an attacker to death before getting on board to safety. Benavidez saved eight men and, slick with blood, was mistaken for dead.

Following his medical retirement in 1976, Benavidez advocated for children's education and extend opportunities he never had, Haynes said. He died in 1998.

His name is on a stretch of highway, a Navy cargo ship, a short graphic novel, a commemorative G.I. Joe and, in a nod to his passion for education, several Texas schools. If the students in those schools want to walk in Benavidez's footsteps as a Green Beret, they would need to train in two places -- Fort Benning in Georgia for infantry training, and then specialized training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Both of those bases are named after Confederate generals.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.