The Ballad of Roy Benavidez

The Life and Times of America’s Most Famous Hispanic War Hero


By William Sturkey

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$45.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $35.00 $45.00 CAD
  2. ebook $19.99 $25.99 CAD

The dramatic life of Vietnam War hero Roy Benavidez, revealing how Hispanic Americans have long shaped US history, from "a major new voice [with] lyrical powers as a biographer” (David W. Blight, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Frederick Douglass)

In May 1968, while serving in Vietnam, Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez led the rescue of a reconnaissance team surrounded by hundreds of enemy soldiers. He saved the lives of at least eight of his comrades that day in a remarkable act of valor that left him permanently disabled. Awarded the Medal of Honor after a yearslong campaign, Benavidez became a highly sought-after public speaker, a living symbol of military heroism, and one of the country’s most prominent Latinos.  

Now, historian William Sturkey tells Benavidez’s life story in full for the first time. Growing up in Jim Crow–era Texas, Benavidez was scorned as “Mexican” despite his family’s deep roots in the state. He escaped poverty by enlisting in a desegregating military and was first deployed amid the global upheavals of the 1950s. Even after receiving the Medal of Honor, Benavidez was forced to fight for disability benefits amid Reagan-era cutbacks. 

An unwavering patriot alternately celebrated and snubbed by the country he loved, Benavidez embodied many of the contradictions inherent in twentieth-century Latino life. The Ballad of Roy Benavidez places that experience firmly at the heart of the American story.  

  • “A robust account of a true American hero and his ability to overcome many different obstacles.”
  • “Behold in William Sturkey a major new voice of the historian’s craft. His Ballad of Roy Benavidez reveals a life made by the tragedy of the Vietnam War, but also by intergenerational poverty and racism from deep in the heart of Texas. Benavidez earned and then had to wear his military heroism for other people’s political aims. Sturkey has lyrical powers as a biographer, and through this beautiful and harrowing story, he converts Benavidez’s life into a mirror of America’s never-ending struggle over race and war culture.”
    David W. Blight, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Frederick Douglass
  • The Ballad of Roy Benavidez is a stunning and eloquent examination of one man’s life and sacrifice, and the political, social, and economic systems that used him for their own purposes. By painting a portrait of an American family seeking ways to survive under the strain of racism and poverty and humanizing the betrayals of one veteran because of his race and class, Sturkey moves beyond the widely understood idea that Vietnam War veterans as a whole were routinely denied critical care or consideration for their military service. This book offers a new way of telling American military history, with attention to structural inequality, compassion toward all who are harmed by war, and a narrative approach that inspires you to learn more.”
    Marcia Chatelain, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Franchise
  • “The US Army twice sent Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez to fight in Vietnam. His first tour came close to killing him. The second earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. In this powerful and moving new book, Sturkey recovers the extraordinary life of an ordinary man who bore the burdens of an unwanted war—and made himself into an American hero.”
    Kevin Boyle, author of The Shattering
  • “Roy Benavidez, a Mexican American Vietnam War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, inspired presidents and ordinary Americans alike with his stories of patriotism and bravery in the face of great danger. He was an enigmatic figure who millions of Americans, especially Latinos, will find all-too familiar: a serviceman who sacrificed nearly all, yet never questioned the promise of a country that didn’t always make good on its founding ideals of liberty and equality. Sturkey tells his story beautifully, with great empathy and quiet admiration.”
    Geraldo L. Cadava, author of The Hispanic Republican

On Sale
Jun 11, 2024
Page Count
464 pages
Basic Books

William Sturkey

About the Author

William Sturkey is an associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Hattiesburg, a finalist for the Benjamin L. Hooks National Book Award and winner of the 2020 Zócalo Book Prize, and the coeditor of To Write in the Light of Freedom. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Learn more about this author