NEW YORK — Fourteen Medal of Honor recipients endorsed Donald J. Trump for president on Monday, the campaign announced, including Alabama’s own US Army Command Sergeant Major (Ret.) Bennie Adkins.
“It is a tremendous honor to have the support of these fourteen heroes who bravely fought to defend America and rid the world of tyranny,” said Mr. Trump. “These soldiers are the personification of courage under fire; they are the best of us all. Their honorable service to our country is an inspiration to every one of us and is a reminder that America has been the world’s most indispensable nation because of the great character of our people. I thank each of these Medal of Honor recipients for their faith in me to serve as our next president and commander-in-chief.”
In 1966, 32-year-old Sergeant First Class Bennie G. Adkins of the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group was already being recognized for his exemplary service during his second tour of combat. On March 9 of that year, a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force attacked his camp.
Over the next 48 hours, Adkins went from being a well-known and highly respected leader in his unit, to the kind of soldier that generations of U.S. Army Special Forces talk about any time that stories of extreme valor come up in conversation.
According to an official citation, “During the thirty-eight hour battle and forty-eight hours of escape and evasion, fighting with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, it was estimated that Adkins killed between 135 and 175 of the enemy while sustaining eighteen different wounds to his body.” (Read the full, incredible story here)
On Sept. 15, 2014, Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins was awarded the Medal of Honor, almost half a century after returning from the jungles of Vietnam to the political and social upheaval of late 1960s America.
Medal of Honor recommendations usually must be made within two years of the act of heroism and must be presented within three years.
So why did it take so long for Adkins to be recognized?
“In 2009 Command Sergeant Major Adkins’ family contacted my office and told us that they were going to try to get this wrong righted,” U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL3), Adkins’ Congressman, told Yellowhammer.
From that moment forward, Rogers made it his personal mission to make sure Adkins received the honor he was due.
Rogers immediately moved for there to be a review of Adkins’ records. Fortunately, all of the documentation the Army compiled after Adkins’ heroic efforts — including first-hand accounts from American soldiers who are still alive — had been preserved by the Pentagon.
According to the documentation, Mr. Adkins was nominated for the Medal of Honor shortly after the battle by his chain of command. In doing that, his commanding officer, who was in the battle with him, wrote a five-page narrative detailing what had happened. The Army then took statements from every soldier who was with him and documented all of the communications that took place during the battle.
But as the recommendation worked its way up the chain of command to the general officer level, they inexplicably decided Adkins’ actions merited the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, rather than the Medal of Honor.
When Congressman Rogers’ office started pushing for the Army to revisit Adkins’ story, there was a treasure trove of original battlefield information still intact.
“You’ve got to get the documentation that supports the review,” Rogers said, explaining the process. “Then the Secretary of Defense has to review it and decide that he would like to see it recommended to the president. After that happened, we had to go back and get an exception to the law, which says that the Medal of Honor must be awarded within three years of the event. So we had to get Congress to pass a law to say this deserves an exception.”
Rogers lobbied his colleagues incessantly.
“There was a lot of resistance, surprisingly,” he said. “But one thing that really helped was that Secretary (of Defense) Hagel was asking for this. He had reviewed it and felt like it was an injustice that needed to be remedied. It finally got passed, but it took several months.”
In addition to lobbying Congress, Rogers also had to make his case to the White House, who would not normally be receptive to the requests of a Republican congressman from Alabama.
“We spent several months pestering the president’s office,” Rogers laughed. “Fortunately they did the right thing.”
“Sometimes even the most extraordinary stories can get lost in the fog of war or the passage of time,” President Obama said. “When new evidence comes to light, certain actions can be reconsidered for this honor, and it is entirely right and proper that we have done so.”
As for the reason why Adkins and other deserving soldiers were not properly honored initially upon their return, Rogers said he was not exactly sure, but believes it could have been a combination of the post-war political climate, as well as prejudice.
“There were clearly some prejudices involved when you look at who was and wasn’t recognized after Vietnam,” he said. “Some folks were of a different race, some folks were a certain religion, and some folks were from the South. So there was some of that involved. It may have been because Bennie was a southern boy. You never know.”
In September of 2014, in the East Room of the White House, all of the efforts of Adkins’ family and Rogers’ office came to fruition. Four of the five living men whose lives were saved by Adkins between March 9 and March 12, 1966 joined him at the White House in a scene that had been a half-century in the making.
Adkins, who is now 82-years-old and walks with a cane, rose unassisted and stood at attention as the President of the United States bestowed upon him his nation’s highest military honor. Adkins’ chin quivered ever so slightly as President Obama placed the medal around his neck. His wife of 59 years, Mary, beamed with pride on the front row, smiling as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Adkins snapped off a perfectly formed salute to the crowd before exiting the stage.
“This Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers with me,” he would later say with genuine humility.
And as the Army Chaplain led the audience in a closing prayer, Bennie G. Adkins of Opelika, Ala., stood once more to honor the One who had always been with him, from the jungles of Vietnam to the East Room of the White House and everywhere in between.