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The incredible story of Bennie Adkins, Alabama’s Medal of Honor recipient

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins in a ceremony at the White House Sept. 15, 2014 (Photo: Cliff Sims)
President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins in a ceremony at the White House Sept. 15, 2014 (Photo: Cliff Sims)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins of Opelika, Ala., for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam War.

So numerous and heroic were Adkins’ battlefield exploits in the jungles of Vietnam that President Obama started his remarks by saying that there was no way there would be enough time to describe them all. At another point he paused to simply say, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

Here’s a lightly edited transcript of the official citation, which details a portion of Adkins’ incredible story:

When Adkins’ camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours of March 9, 1966, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars.

Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, 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 exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary.

When Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire all the while successfully covering the rescue.

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, 1966, enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong.

Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered 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.

While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.

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.

When that last line was read aloud, there was a collective, audible gasp throughout the assembled crowd of friends, family, press and members of the military.

“Mr. Adkins is well deserving of this enormous honor,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL3), who has for years been a vocal advocate pushing for Adkins’ service to be sufficiently honored. “After every East Alabamian learned the true details of his amazing bravery in Vietnam, it seemed there was no high enough honor our nation could bestow upon him. I continue to be astounded by his story and his courage. Mr. Adkins is a true American hero and very deserving recipient of our nation’s highest honor.”

Every member of Adkins’ unit was either killed or wounded during the 48-hour ordeal detailed above. Two of the men he saved were able to attend the Tuesday’s event. After the ceremony, Adkins’ thoughts quickly turned to the other heroes with whom he served.

“This Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers with me,” he said.

Still putting his brothers in arms first almost a half-century later.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims