Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins: A Real American Hero

It’s time to Break It Down!

Created in 1861, the Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress to U.S. military personnel for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. There are versions of the medal designed uniquely for the Army, for the Navy, and for the Air Force. Members of the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard receive the Navy version.

Put in short descriptive terms, the Medal of Honor is established to recognize American service men and women who distinguish themselves through their heroic service. Let us posit from the outset that in no uncertain terms, Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins is the epitome of an American military hero. On Monday of this week, President Obama conferred the award upon Adkins.

I’m reminded that when the President of the United States is introduced, it is a simple and direct matter. “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States. The thought behind that is at least in part, after having reached the pinnacle of global power and national acclaim, at least politically, an extensive introductory preamble is redundant. Everyone knows and understands “he or she is all that.”

To that end, I should be able to write, “Ladies and gentleman, Medal of Honor Recipient, Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins,” and the rest would be imputed. Alas, for most that is not the case, so I will take a moment to provide the background that will help you appreciate the incredible exploits of Sgt. Maj. Adkins, and the conditions under which he undertook his valorous deeds.

First, let’s set the time and place:

The then Sergeant First Class Adkins was working with the troops of the South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group at Camp A Shau when the camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force on March 9, 1966.

What he did:

  • He rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position defending the camp
  • He continued to mount a defense even while incurring wounds from several direct hits from enemy mortars
  • Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of the camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier while he ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety
  • When the hostile fire subsided, he exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire and carried his wounded comrades to a more secure position
  • Under enemy fire, some coming from South Vietnamese allies who defected to the North during the battle, Adkins took wounded troops to an airstrip outside the camp for evacuation and drew enemy fire away from the evacuation aircraft
  • He went outside the camp again to retrieve supplies from an airdrop that fell into a minefield…all on day one of what would become an 86-hour ordeal.
  • The fighting, and Adkin’s heroism continued on the morning of March 10th when the North Vietnamese hit the camp with their main attack.
  • Within two hours, SFC Adkins was the only defender firing a mortar weapon.
  • When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective rifle fire upon the enemy as they infiltrated the amp perimeter and assaulted his position.
  • Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off relentless waves of attacks by the North Vietnamese soldiers.
  • After falling back to a smaller bunker in Camp A Shau, Adkins killed more enemy troops with small arms fire, destroyed equipment and classified documents to prevent them from getting into North Vietnamese hands.
  • He led a group of soldiers in digging their way out of the rear of the bunker and escaping the besieged camp.
  • Carrying a wounded comrade and unable to get to the evacuation helicopters, he and the band faded into the jungle, avoiding their North Vietnamese pursuers for 48 hours.

Helicopters finally rescued Adkins and the rest of his group on March 12th. According to the Army, Adkins killed 135 to 175 enemy soldiers during the Camp A Shau battle. He suffered 18 wounds during the 86-hour ordeal. After 48 years, those are not the numbers Adkins cites. Instead, he views the metrics this way:

“I’m just a keeper of the medal for those other 16 (U.S. troops) who were in the battle, especially the five who didn’t make it. 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.”

He also remembers the South Vietnamese who stuck by him:

“There were about 410 indigenous Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers there with us, and of those, only about 122 survived, and most of those were wounded. It was a horrible, horrible battle. There was valor on all sides, not only Americans, but from the CIDG soldiers also.”

In summary, when discussing his experience at Camp A Shau, Adkins stated, “The bottom line is that it was just not my day to go.”

With the foregoing prologue, I can now write, “Ladies and gentleman, Medal of Honor Recipient, Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins.” Now, you may be better able to appreciate the exploits of “Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins: A Real American Hero!”

I’m done; holla back!

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