By Rebekah Martin
What does a hero look like?
Bennie Adkins, 80, was born on a farm in southwest Oklahoma. He grew up learning how to work the land on his family’s Waurika, Okla. farm.
“I attribute my work ethic and conservative values to farm life,” Adkins said. “That’s a tough life. It demands hard work and conservativeness.”
Adkins married Opelika native, Mary Arington in 1956.
“She says I’ve got my numbers wrong,” Adkins joked. “She says she’s only 59.” Together they reared five children and are grandparents to six, from the ages of 10 months to 30 years old.
“The military policy seemed to be that as the reenlistment rate went up so did the divorce rate,” Adkins said. “I have a great family, and fortunately we were the exception to that rule.”
Adkins said he is very thankful for the support of his wife and family. “The wife’s role was to stay home and take care of the children,” Adkins said. “My wife did this exceptionally well. We had five children, all of whom made us proud parents.”
Bennie and Mary’s oldest son is a minister, their second son is a practicing surgeon and their youngest daughter is a successful businesswoman.
“Yes, they have made me very proud,” Adkins said. “My wife did a very good job with our children.”
Adkins was drafted into the United States Army in 1956 at the age of 22. Facing academic probation, Adkins dropped out of Southeastern State Teachers College.
“Back then, if you dropped out of college your name was placed at the top of the draft list,” Adkins said. “Little did I know that single decision would come to all of this.”
He completed his basic training in Ft. Bliss, Texas and it was there he received his orders for Germany. Adkins spent the remainder of his draft time in Eiessen, Germany, being rapidly promoted to sergeant within 20 months. “I suppose I was doing something right,” Adkins said. “It was at that time I decided to make the military a career and was sent back stateside to Ft. Benning, Ga.”
Adkins served in a 2nd Infantry division at Ft. Benning for over two years. Unsatisfied, Adkins then volunteered for the Army Special Forces.
“When I was successfully trained as a Special Forces soldier, I was sent to Vietnam on my first tour in 1963,” Adkins said. He would go on to serve two more tours in Vietnam – the second from 1965-1966 and the third five years later in 1971.
Adkins now wears a Medal of Honor because of his actions during his second tour in Vietnam. The Medal of Honor is given to those members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
“It’s been a humbling experience,” Adkins said. “I wear this medal, not for me, but for the 16 other highly skilled, highly trained soldiers that were in that battle with me and especially for those five who paid the ultimate price for their country.
“What makes it so great for me was that four of the six living soldiers who were also in that battle were present for the ceremony.” His wife was also able to be in attendance.
Adkins retired from his military career in 1978. The next year he received his bachelor’s degree in business from Troy State University. While pursuing two master’s degrees in education and management, Adkins opened his own accounting firm. He served as the CEO of Adkins Accounting Services, Inc. for over 20 years before shutting its doors.
Adkins also shared his immense knowledge and education by teaching night classes at Opelika’s Southern Union Junior College for ten years and at Auburn University for six.
“I’ve been blessed with three great professions in my life that I have loved,” Adkins said. “I’ve been a soldier, achieving the highest enlisted rank that a person can reach. I was a teacher for many years, and I have been successful in business.”
Adkins said his Medal of Honor has given him the chance to have a fourth profession. “My fourth profession is now teaching and encouraging patriotism throughout the world. From the World Wars, to Korea and Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan there’s close to 30 million Americans who have served in the military,” Adkins said. “It makes the experience of being one of the 78 living Medal of Honor recipients very humbling.”