By Karlene Turkington
The story began in the A Shau Special Forces Camp in A Shau Valley in Vietnam, a major infiltration route adjacent to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Laos. Among the defenders of the camp was 32-year-old SFC Bennie Adkins. On March 9, 1966, enemy forces attacked. Over the next 36 hours Adkins fought with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, killing an estimated 135-175 of the enemy and sustaining 18 different wounds.
Forty-eight years later, in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Barak Obama presented the 80-year-old Adkins with the long-overdue Medal of Honor.
In presenting the Medal, Obama said, “I have to be honest. In the battle and daring escape that lasted four days, Bennie performed so many acts of bravery that we actually don’t have time to talk about them all.”
As the emblem of gallantry was fastened around his neck, Adkins’ chin quivered, and his eyes were bright with unshed tears as he saluted the cheering audience.
The ceremony was followed by a White House Reception.
The following day, Adkins was honored at the Pentagon, as he was added to the Hall of Heroes. This exhibit strives to share the legacy of Medal of Honor recipients with a permanent exhibit of dramatic portraits entitled Visions of Valor. During the ceremony, hosted by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Adkins was presented with the Medal of Honor flag and a framed citation attesting to his courage and bravery. Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson, who spoke at the ceremony, said, “So, what does lead men to act so valiantly? It is indeed tempting to ask how such men are created. The courage of this sort is beyond words, even beyond understanding, and maybe we can be satisfied only with knowing there exists in some people, something so inviolable, something so precious that they would sacrifice their own lives to protect it, to ensure its continued vitality.
“Let us call it duty, honor, patriotism, love, whatever we call it, let us be grateful, let us be grateful that our country seems to be blessed with an abundance of this scarce breed of person,” Carson said.
Adkins then had an opportunity to address the standing-room-only audience. “I would like to say at this time that this Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers that fought with me,” he stated. He then recognized four of the men who were in attendance by asking them to stand. He continued, “I would like to dedicate this Medal of Honor to the five Special Forces soldiers who paid the ultimate price,” and went on to name the men. “They are the real heroes.”
Adkins also acknowledged the sacrifice of his family members and asked them to stand as well.
“I am a very, very fortunate individual,” he said. “I have had three great professions in my life, and I’m still a young teenager … Again I thank you, and I am a humble individual.”
Tatjana Christian, a Public Affairs Specialist, said, “There was a speech prepared for the sergeant major, but he went rogue on us.”
At a reception that night at the Sheraton Pentagon, Adkins again said he was “humbled and pleased” to be honored and stated he hopes to assist the Army in the future to eliminate some of the errors and see the lessons learned passed on to the next generation of soldiers.