As many as 175 enemy troops killed, 18 wounds from enemy fire, 38 hours of battle, 48 hours evading the North Vietnamese troops in the bush — and one tiger. Those are the numbers behind Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins’ Medal of Honor, an award he will receive from President Obama in a White House ceremony Monday.
Adkins, of Opelika, Alabama, is being honored for his actions in Vietnam’s A Shau Valley more than 48 years ago. Then a 32-year-old sergeant first class, Adkins was among a handful of Americans working with troops of the South Vietnamese Civil Irregular Defense Group at Camp A Shau when the camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force on March 9, 1966, according to an Army report.
“Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position defending the camp,” the Army report says. “He continued to mount a defense even while incurring wounds from 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 and carried his wounded comrades to a more secure position.”
Later, under enemy fire, some of it coming from South Vietnamese allies who had defected to the North during the battle, Adkins took wounded troops to an airstrip outside the camp for evacuation and drew enemy fire away from the evacuation aircraft. He went outside the camp again to retrieve supplies from an airdrop that fell into a minefield. And that was just day one.
“The bottom line is that it was just not my day to go,” Adkins said in an Army interviewat Fort Benning, Georgia, last week.
The fighting, and Adkins’ heroism, continued in the early morning of March 10, when the North Vietnamese hit the camp with their main attack, according to the Army report.