By Anna-Claire Terry
Retired Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins received the Medal of Honor in September 2014. Last Thursday, he took the stage at Opelika High School to speak to an assembly of students. The former Green Beret served this country in tours in Vietnam in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1971 and 1972. Adkins was a specialist in enemy intelligence.
Adkins told the students many stories, one of which involved occasions when his picture was circulated, and he was wanted dead or alive.
Adkins also explained to students that bad leadership exists as well as good leadership.
He told stories of being shot at almost every day at one site, major mortar attacks, mass assaults and the Vietnamese chanting as they attacked. Adkins had plenty of opportunities to ponder the possibility of his demise in this war.
“You just have to decide whether it’s your day or not,” Adkins said.
In another event, Adkins was aboard a helicopter when the enemy shot and killed a soldier who had stepped in front of the door.
“Again, it just wasn’t my time,” Adkins told the audience.
Adkins survived hand grenades being thrown at him, being hit by bullets through the body of a man he was carrying on his back, and even being stalked by a tiger while traveling through the jungle.
Once again, Adkins said those times were simply not his time to go.
“One time the North Vietnamese soldiers were going to have some fun with us, and instead of shooting me, they just shot holes in the water cans I was carrying,” Adkins said. “When I got back to the camp, I didn’t have much water- just enough to survive on.”
He also told of terrible weather conditions and traveling through the jungle with 16 other American soldiers and 410 indigenous personnel who had been with U.S. forces for some time when the Vietnamese attacked.
Adkins illustrated to students the ordeal of his aircraft being shot down during an attempt to transport soldiers out of the jungle.
“All 17 of us were wounded, most of us multi-wounded. Unfortunately, five of them paid the ultimate price and gave their lives for this great country,” Adkins said.
Adkins referred to his 18 wounds as “minor” and said receiving the Medal of Honor has been the most humbling experience.
“I wear this medal today for those other 16,” Adkins said to the captivated crowd of high school students.
He closed with “May God bless America” and opened the floor to questions.
Toni Reble Bates, an OHS student, said hearing Adkins speak separated what is shown about war in movies and what is real.
“He showed us what they went through and how their lives changed because of it,” she said.
J. Arthur Grubbs, an 11th grade student, referred to Adkins as a “real life example of the history lessons.”
“When you read about it, it seems so distant, but he made it real. It was very interesting,” Grubbs said.
Since receiving the Medal of Honor in September, Adkins said he does more talking now than anything. He currently speaks to three to six groups a week. He speaks to audiences of all sizes and people of all ages.
Adkins said it is his goal to promote leadership and patriotism among young people.
“Let’s face it, the young people are our future leaders of this country,” Adkins said. “Some lead, some follow, and some get out of the way and don’t care.
“I would like to see the group that is going to lead increase in size.”