FORT BENNNING, Ga. (Sept. 10, 2014) -- Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, an Opelika, Alabama, resident, is scheduled to receive the Medal of Honor during a ceremony Monday, at the White House.
The Medal of Honor is being awarded for Adkins' actions during 38 hours of close-combat fighting against enemy forces near Camp A Shau, Vietnam, March 9-12, 1966.
Adkins said it was not just his actions that were valorous during that time, but also the actions of his fellow Soldiers.
"What I attribute this to is not my actions, but the actions of the other 16 Americans who were with us in the battle at Camp A Shau, and especially the five who paid the ultimate price," Adkins said. "I want it known that I feel like the Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Americans who were there, and especially to the five who paid the ultimate price. All of the 17 Americans who were present in this battle were awarded some type of recognition for valor. Valor was something that was just there with us. All of those 17 American Special Forces Soldiers were wounded, most of us multiple times."
Adkins was drafted into the Army in December 1956, and eventually volunteered for Special Forces in 1961.
"I had an assignment in a garrison-type unit, and I found out that was not for me," he said. "I wanted something in the field, and I wanted to be in one of the elite units. At that period in time, it seemed that the Special Forces was the most elite unit. I was not satisfied until I had become a member of that organization."
Adkins went on to serve three tours in Vietnam. His second tour, from September 1965 to September 1966, saw Adkins serve at Camp A Shau.
According to the battle narrative, Adkins was serving as an intelligence sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces, when a large North Vietnamese force attacked Camp A Shau, in the early morning hours of March 9.
Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position defending the camp.
He continued to mount a defense while suffering wounds from several direct hits from enemy mortars. Upon learning that several Soldiers were wounded near the camp's center, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another Soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Adkins repeatedly exposed himself to sniper and mortar fire, while moving casualties to the camp dispensary.
Adkins exposed himself to enemy fire transporting a casualty to an airstrip for evacuation. He and his group then came under heavy small-arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group, known as the CIDG, which had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese. Despite this overwhelming force, Adkins maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a wounded American and to draw fire away from the aircraft, all the while successfully covering the rescue.
Despite the defection of some CIDG soldiers, Adkins said many of the CIDG stayed loyal to the Americans and showed bravery that day.
"We were in a situation where there was no ground transportation to get to this isolated Special Forces camp," Adkins said. "We were in a situation where the weather was very bad and we could not get the type of air support we needed. In that period of time, there were about 410 indigenous Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers there with us, and of those, only about 122 survived, and most of those were wounded. It was a horrible, horrible battle. There was valor on all sides, not only from the Americans, but from the CIDG soldiers also."
Later, when a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Adkins again moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much-needed supplies.
During the early morning hours of March 10, enemy forces launched their main assault. Within two hours, Adkins was the only defender firing a mortar. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began firing upon enemies as they infiltrated the camp perimeter and assaulted his position. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off relentless waves of the attacking enemy.
"It was just not my time that day," Adkins said. "I was blown from the mortar pit on several occasions, and I was fortunate enough to go outside the camp amongst the enemy and get one of our wounded MedEvaced out. I also made a trip into the minefield to recover some supplies that were air dropped to us. The bottom line is that it was just not my day to go."
Adkins then withdrew to regroup with a smaller element of Soldiers at the communications bunker. While there, he single-handedly eliminated numerous insurgents with small-arms fire, almost completely exhausting his supply of ammunition. Braving intense enemy fire, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and evaded fire while returning to the bunker.
After the order was given to evacuate the camp, Adkins and a small group of Soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker, and fought their way out of the camp.
Because of his efforts to carry a wounded Soldier to an extraction point and leave no one behind, Adkins and his group were unable to reach the last evacuation helicopter.
Adkins then rallied the remaining survivors and led the group into the jungle, where they evaded the enemy for 48 hours, until they were rescued by helicopter March 12.
During that 48-hour period, Adkins said it looked bleak for him and his fellow Soldiers, until unexpected help arrived.
"It was too late and too high of an altitude for another helicopter, so we had to evade the enemy," Adkins said. "This was the night that it looked like they had run us down. The North Vietnamese soldiers had us surrounded on a little hilltop and everything started getting kind of quiet. We could look around and all at once, all we could see were eyes going around us. It was a tiger that stalked us that night. We were all bloody and in this jungle, the tiger stalked us and the North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of the tiger than they were of us. So, they backed off some and we were (able to escape)."
Now his wife of 59 years, Mary Adkins, said she heard stories of the battle the next day.
"I had two little boys who were just starting school," she said. "I got up one morning to get them ready for school and when I got up, I turned the TV on. They were telling about a battle on the national news and about Soldiers going through the jungle with a tiger in the middle of them and the Vietnamese, and I don't know what it was, but something just told me that it was him. I think it was about two days later that I got the telegram saying that he was lost and they hadn't found him. About a day or two later, I got another telegram saying that he was found, but they didn't know what condition he was in. The next one I got said that he was in this hospital and he was doing fine."
During the 38-hour battle, and subsequent 48 hours of escape and evasion, Adkins fought with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, killing an estimated 135-175 of the enemy, and suffering 18 different wounds.
Despite the 48 years that have passed, Adkins said the memories of what happened in the jungles of Vietnam are still vivid.
"It is not a faint memory," he said. "I can tell you every man who was there and the five who lost their lives. I can tell you how that happened. It diminishes, but it does not go away. I really feel that most of the Soldiers today experience some degree of [post-traumatic stress disorder]. We have ways of treating this, and my way of treating this was more work, more family and talking about it."
Adkins, who says he's a "young 80" now, said the reality of receiving the Medal of Honor has not yet set in.
"It's something hard to grasp and realize that during this period of time from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, there's been somewhere between 28 and 30 million who have served in the military," he said. "To date, we have 79 living recipients of the Medal of Honor. If I can make it another 10 days, maybe I'll be number 80. I still feel that (it may not come) today."
After his military career, Adkins went on to establish Adkins Accounting Service in Auburn, Alabama, and served as CEO for 22 years. He also taught night classes at Southern Union Junior College and Auburn University, all of which he attributed to lessons learned during his Army career.
"The military teaches a competency and a desire to do the best you can at whatever you do, and I carried that on in my teaching and the businesses I operated," he said. "Whether (Soldiers are) a one-time Soldier or a career Soldier, they should absolutely do the best they can and accomplish the most that they desire to accomplish."