Remembering Bennie Adkins

“…[Y]ou just do. Quitting isn’t an option. That’s what you train for. In the jungle environment, we became better than some of the North Vietnamese soldiers.”  – Bennie Adkins

Sergeant First Class Bennie AdkinsCommand Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2014 for his actions during the 2-day battle of Camp A Shau in 1966 and the subsequent harrowing escape through the jungle to safety. During this epic battle, then Sergeant First Class Adkins bravely fought off repeated close-quarter attacks by thousands of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers that had surrounded his base. Despite being wounded numerous times, Adkins undertook many perilous missions to recover air-dropped supplies within minefields and recover wounded comrades while under heavy fire. His firing of the camp’s 81mm mortar, directing airstrikes over the radio, and use of other short-range weapons were instrumental in driving back several NVA assaults that had breached the camp’s defenses.

On Friday, April 17, 2020, Bennie Adkins passed away from complications related to the COVID-19 virus.

Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins Medal of Honor Citation

 


 

SERGEANT FIRST CLASS BENNIE ADKINS AND THE BATTLE OF CAMP A SHAU

Sergeant First Class Bennie Adkins, a member of Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), distinguished himself during combat operations at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam, between March 9th to 12th, 1966.  When the camp was attacked by a large force of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong soldiers, Adkins rushed through intense hostile fire and manned an 81mm mortar position. Despite being wounded, he ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several of his comrades to safety. When the hostile fire subsided, Adkins exposed himself to sniper fire and carried the wounded to the camp dispensary. During the evacuation of a seriously wounded American, Adkins went outside the camp walls to draw fire and successfully covered the rescue. During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966, a NVA regiment launched their main attack. Within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. Although he was painfully wounded and with most of his crew killed or wounded, he fought off the attacking North Vietnamese. After withdrawing to a bunker where Americans were attempting to fight off a company of NVA regulars, Adkins killed numerous enemy combatants with his suppressive fire. Running low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered ammunition, and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered to evacuate the camp, all signal equipment and classified documents were destroyed.

United States Marines firing a M-29 81mm mortar from a mortar pit in Vietnam. Adkins directed fire from a similar weapon during the Battle of Camp A Shau (USMC Archives)

Because of his efforts to carry a wounded soldier to an extraction point and leave no one behind, Adkins and his group were unable to reach the last evacuation helicopter. He rallied a small group of men and they fought their way out of the camp and evaded pursuing NVA soldiers for two days until they were rescued by a helicopter. Their escape was aided by Adkins’ sawed-off shotgun and by the unexpected intervention of an Indonesian tiger. Adkins maintained a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun that he used as a sidearm. During their retreat Adkins rigged his shotgun to function as a make-shift antenna for his damaged radio; the field repair worked, and Adkins was able to radio their location to friendly forces. It was during their second night in the jungle, surrounded by NVA troops, that something unexpected came to their aid. Fatefully, a tiger had been hunting nearby and its presence frightened off the enemy, giving Adkins and the others room to quickly create a landing pad for a rescue helicopter the following morning. The helicopter found them, the men scrambled aboard, and were taken to safety.

Adkins began his service in the US Army in 1956 and retired in 1978. He served with the Special Forces for more than 13 years. Adkins earned his bachelor’s degree from Troy State University, in 1979. He earned his master’s degree in Education, in 1982, and then, a second master’s degree in Management, in 1988, all from Troy State University. Simultaneous to pursuing his degree programs, he established the Adkins Accounting Service, Inc., in Auburn, Alabama, serving as its CEO for 22 years.

THE MEDAL OF HONOR

“The medal doesn’t really belong to me. I’m just a keeper of it for those other 16 in the battle, especially the five who didn’t make it…”   Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins

Despite being recommended for the Medal of Honor by his immediate superiors, SFC Bennie Adkins received instead the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Camp A Shau.  Adkins said he was proud to receive that medal and did not give the Medal of Honor any further thought.

Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins receiving the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on September 15, 2014.

Well after Adkins and his surviving comrades had retired from service, several of the soldiers who had fought at Camp A Shau continued to lobby for a Medal of Honor for Adkins.  Despite exceeding existing statute of limitations for Medal of Honor nominations, Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) co-sponsored a bill to support an upgrade of Bennie Adkin’s Distinguished Service Cross.  With approvals from the Department of the Army, Secretary of Defense, and, ultimately, President Barack Obama, Bennie Adkins learned in June 2014, 50 years after the battle, that he would receive the nation’s highest military honor.

With many of his A Shau comrades in attendance at the White House ceremony, Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins received the Medal of Honor from President Obama and a grateful nation on September 15, 2014. During the presentation, President Obama exclaimed, “I have to be honest, in a battle and daring escape that lasted four days, Bennie performed so many acts of bravery we actually don’t have time to talk about all of them.”

Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins became the 16th member of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) to wear the Medal of Honor.

THE FIVE MEMBERS OF THE 5th SPECIAL FORCES COMMAND AT A SHAU WHO WERE KILLED IN ACTION

Spc5 Phillip Stahl
Sgt. Owen McCann
SSgt. Billie Hall
Sgt. Jimmy Taylor
1Sgt. Raymond Allen

 


Read Sergeant First Class Adkin’s Story in his own words

A Tiger Among Us: A Story of Valor in Vietnam’s A Shau Valley by Bennie G. Adkins