Michael D. Benge was born in Denver, Colorado on August 6, 1935. PRIVATE He served in the Marine Corps from 1956 to 1959, achieving the rank of sergeant, and was honorably discharged. He completed his Bachelors in Science degree in Agricultural Engineering at Oregon State University in 1962.
In 1963, he joined the International Voluntary Services (a forerunner of the Peace Corps), and served in Vietnam, becoming fluent in both Vietnamese and Rhade (the major ethnic minority dialect in the highlands). In 1965, he joined the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and served as a Provincal Development Officer in the CORDS program (Civil Operations and Rural Development Support) in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.
While serving as the Senior Civilian Advisor in CORDs, he was captured by the North Vietnamese as he attempted to rescue four American civilians and a number of missionaries in an area that was occupied by a North Vietnamese Battalion. He was held in numerous camps in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam. He spent 27 months in solitary confinement, one year in a cage, and one year in a “black box.” While in the “Plantation Gardens” in Hanoi, he served as the deputy to Senior Ranking Officer Col. Ted Guy.
Mr. Benge received several honors for his service in Vietnam. For efforts in rescuing eleven Americans (USAID personnel) before capture, he received the State Department’s highest award for heroism. He received a second award for valor for his actions during captivity. He also received three medals from the Government of South Vietnam for his work in public administration and political affairs, public health, and ethnic minority affairs. And, he received several letters of commendation from Congressional delegations and others in recognition of his work in Vietnam.
After his release in 1973 during “Operation Homecoming,” and while on medical leave, he returned to Vietnam and continued his work with the Ministry of Ethnic Minorities. In 1974, he was assigned to the USAID Mission in the Philippines, and after the fall of Vietnam in 1975, he assisted in processing refugees to go to the U.S. In 1978, he completed his Master’s Degree in Agroforestry at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos. In 1979, he rotated to the U.S.
Mr. Benge has received recognition for his work in development beyond his contributions before, during and after his imprisonment in Vietnam. The King of Sweden honored him with an award patterned after the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for his international work in developing fast-growing trees. He also received the J. Morton Sterling Award from the Arbor Day Foundation for his work in international forestry, and has received a number of commendations from USAID Administrators and from various other Agency personnel, cited as an exemplary USAID employee. Mr. Benge is now retired from USAID.
Mr. Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam, and with the exception of his time as a Prisoner of War, he worked in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He is a student of the politics of South East Asia, and has written extensively about the politics of the region and of the human rights abuses against the Montagnard and Vietnamese people under the communist Vietnamese regime. As the Senior Advisor to the Montagnard Human Rights Organization based in Raleigh, NC, he works on human rights, political, immigration, and religious issues for the Montagnards in the United States and on behalf of those remaining in Vietnam, as well as other disenfranchised and abused peoples of SE Asia.