During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with a look at the 38-hour Battle of Camp A Shau, from March 9-12, 1966, and the distinguished actions of Sgt. First Class Bennie Adkins.
Bennie Adkins’ Medal of Honor citation reads:
“Sergeant First Class Adkins distinguished himself during the period 9 March 1966 to 12 March 1966 during combat operations at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam.
“When the camp was attacked by a large Viet Cong force, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense hostile fire and manned a mortar position. Although he was wounded, he ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several of his comrades to safety.
“When the hostile fire subsided, Sergeant First Class Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire and carried his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary. During the evacuation of a seriously wounded American, Sergeant First Class Adkins maneuvered outside the camp walls to draw fire and successfully covered the rescue.
“During the early morning hours of 10 March 1966, a Viet Cong regiment launched their main attack. Within two hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. Although he was painfully wounded and most of his crew was killed or wounded, he fought off the fanatical waves of attacking Viet Cong.
“After withdrawing to a communications bunker where several Americans were attempting to fight off a company of Viet Cong, Sergeant First Class Adkins killed numerous insurgents with his suppressive fire. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered the vital ammunition, and ran through intense fire back to the communications bunker.
“After being ordered to evacuate the camp, all signal equipment and classified documents were destroyed. Sergeant First Class Adkins and a small group of men fought their way out of the camp and evaded the Viet Cong for two days until they were rescued by a helicopter.
“Sergeant First Class Adkins’ extraordinary heroism in close combat against a numerically superior hostile force was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
In the days leading up to the awarding of his Medal of Honor in 2014, Adkins reflected on his service during an interview for the U.S. Army’s web site:
“What I attribute this to is not my actions, but the actions of the other 16 Americans who were with us in the battle at Camp A Shau, and especially the five who paid the ultimate price,” Adkins said. “I want it known that I feel like the Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Americans who were there, and especially to the five who paid the ultimate price. All of the 17 Americans who were present in this battle were awarded some type of recognition for valor. Valor was something that was just there with us. All of those 17 American Special Forces soldiers were wounded, most of us multiple times.” …
“It was just not my time that day,” Adkins said. “I was blown from the mortar pit on several occasions, and I was fortunate enough to go outside the camp amongst the enemy and get one of our wounded MedEvaced out. I also made a trip into the minefield to recover some supplies that were air dropped to us. The bottom line is that it was just not my day to go.” …
During that 48-hour period, Adkins said it looked bleak for him and his fellow soldiers, until unexpected help arrived.
“It was too late and too high of an altitude for another helicopter, so we had to evade the enemy,” Adkins said. “This was the night that it looked like they had run us down. The North Vietnamese soldiers had us surrounded on a little hilltop and everything started getting kind of quiet. We could look around and all at once, all we could see were eyes going around us. It was a tiger that stalked us that night. We were all bloody and in this jungle, the tiger stalked us and the North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of the tiger than they were of us. So, they backed off some and we were (able to escape).”
Now his wife of 59 years, Mary Adkins, said she heard stories of the battle the next day.
“I had two little boys who were just starting school,” she said. “I got up one morning to get them ready for school and when I got up, I turned the TV on. They were telling about a battle on the national news and about Soldiers going through the jungle with a tiger in the middle of them and the Vietnamese, and I don’t know what it was, but something just told me that it was him. I think it was about two days later that I got the telegram saying that he was lost and they hadn’t found him. About a day or two later, I got another telegram saying that he was found, but they didn’t know what condition he was in. The next one I got said that he was in this hospital and he was doing fine.”
During the 38-hour battle, and subsequent 48 hours of escape and evasion, Adkins fought with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, killing an estimated 135-175 of the enemy, and suffering 18 different wounds.
Despite the 48 years that have passed, Adkins said the memories of what happened in the jungles of Vietnam are still vivid.
“It is not a faint memory,” he said. “I can tell you every man who was there and the five who lost their lives. I can tell you how that happened. It diminishes, but it does not go away. I really feel that most of the Soldiers today experience some degree of [post-traumatic stress disorder]. We have ways of treating this, and my way of treating this was more work, more family and talking about it.”