Letter from Bruce Anders, staff attorney and veteran
Every day we are challenged to incorporate St. Charles’ values into what we do and how we do it. Veterans Day presents an opportunity to reflect on many things, including how St. Charles’ values -- Accountability, Caring and Teamwork -- mirror those of the men and women who have served, and do serve, our country in uniform.
That our military reflects accountability goes without saying. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines train to be accountable to the mission -- constantly, relentlessly, earnestly. And of course, the awesome might that can be unleashed by our armed forces compels a tremendous accountability, one which our elected leaders must wield with utmost gravity and restraint. Our military also represents caring, on and off the battlefield, every day. Many of our social evolutions that integrate caring into our value sets originated in the military, which forms our society’s ultimate meritocracy; excellence is rewarded based entirely on merit, regardless of one’s race, gender, sexual orientation or other classification. Last, teamwork embodies the very core of the military persona. Every act undertaken by a man or woman in uniform is pursuant to a mission or sub-mission, for which each member is both individually and collectively responsible – via their team. Samurai warriors are taught, “A single arrow is easily broken, but not 10 in a bundle.”
Veterans Day can and should remind us that, just like our armed forces, St. Charles’ caregivers were called to serve. The comparison is natural – our military is devoted to Accountability, Caring and Teamwork, just as we are. Acts of valor from our men and women in uniform can refresh our devotion to work hard, every day, to serve the St. Charles patient population and our Central Oregon community at large.
In addition to being a proud member of the St. Charles legal team, I am a proud veteran of the U.S. Army. In 1993, I had the honor of meeting U.S. Army Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, who addressed my unit at the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. Sergeant Benavidez, who passed away in 1998, is an American hero. I would like to share his story with you, not only to honor our veterans, but to stir and invigorate our collective passion for Accountability, Caring, and Teamwork.
In 1965 Sergeant Benavidez stepped on a land mine during a patrol in South Vietnam. His wounds were profound. Doctors concluded he would never walk again and prepared his medical discharge papers. Refusing to accept the diagnosis, he secretly began a nightly training regimen where he would crawl using his elbows and chin to a wall and attempt to lift himself unaided. He starting by wiggling his toes, then his feet, and then after months of excruciating effort, pushing himself up the wall with his ankles and legs. After a year, Sergeant Benavidez walked out of the hospital – and returned to combat.
Back in Vietnam, Sergeant Benavidez was monitoring by radio a 12-man recon team that was inserted into a jungle area to gather intelligence. The team met heavy resistance from more than 1,000 NVA soldiers, and requested emergency extraction. Three helicopters attempted extraction, but were unable to land due to intense enemy fire. When the rescue helicopters returned empty, Sergeant Benavidez leapt aboard to assist in another extraction attempt. He directed the chopper to a clearing where he jumped out and ran through a hail of small arms fire to the crippled team huddled in the woods. Running to the team's position, he was shot in his leg, his face, and the side of his skull.
Despite the wounds, he mustered the strength to carry and load each surviving team member into the chopper. Even as enemy fire intensified, Sergeant Benavidez hurried to recover the deceased and carry each to the chopper, during which he was shot in the abdomen and took shrapnel in his back. He also engaged in hand-to-hand combat. As Sergeant Benavidez was carrying a fallen soldier to the hovering helicopter, the pilot was hit and the chopper crashed. Though in critical condition, Sergeant Benavidez reversed his efforts and removed the wounded from the overturned aircraft and gathered them into a defensive perimeter. For hours he distributed water, first aid and ammunition awaiting the arrival of another extraction helicopter. Despite an ever-intensifying hail of small arms fire, he somehow managed to ferry the men back aboard the final rescue chopper. With little strength remaining, he made a last trip to the perimeter to ensure that all classified documents had been collected or destroyed. Only then, nearly dead from blood loss and dehydration, did he allow himself to be pulled into the chopper, where he immediately lost consciousness.
He was evacuated to the base camp, examined and deemed dead. He was placed in a body bag. As it was being zipped, he managed to spit, alerting the medic that he was actually still alive. All told, Benavidez had a total of 37 separate bullet, bayonet and shrapnel wounds from the six-hour rescue and firefight. Sergeant Benavidez saved the lives of at least the eight men in the recon team, and had he not recovered the classified materials, it is estimated that hundreds of other troops positioned nearby would have been cut off deep within enemy territory. In 1981 President Reagan awarded Sergeant Benavidez the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Two decades later, in the hot Georgia sands of Fort Benning, Sergeant Benavidez told his story to my band of baby-faced soldiers. Our faces were hardened with emotion. Several were moved to tears. Sergeant Benavidez said -- and I’ll never forget these words -- “I did what I did, not for a medal or a thank you, but because it was my duty. I owed it both to my country and to my brothers who would have done the same for me.”
Throughout our nation’s history and into today, countless men and women just like Sergeant Benavidez serve, protect and secure the rights to life and liberty for all Americans. Similarly, St. Charles caregivers serve, protect and secure the rights to life and health for all of our patients. Through our recognition and thanks for their service, let’s reaffirm our own. In a silent moment of reflection, at one of the ceremonies over the weekend, or however you feel appropriate, please join me in thanking, honoring and respecting America’s veterans, and reflecting on the Accountability, Caring, and Teamwork that they inspire in us every day.