How long do you think you could last to hold off enemy forces if the fate of the entire world was in your hands?
For Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins, he’d gladly do it for as long as he could. He proved that to be true when he spent 38 hours fighting off the North Vietnamese force and another 48 hours escaping the invasion and evacuating his wounded soldiers. He did all that while suffering from 18 different wounds himself, an action that would earn him a Medal of Honor.
Deployed to Vietnam
Bennie Gene Adkin’s journey started when he was born in Waurika, Oklahoma. He was 22 when he was drafted into the Army on December 5, 1956. After his initial training at Fort Bliss in Texas, he was tasked to work as an Administrative Clerk-Typist in Giessen, Germany. Adkins was assigned to a garrison unit with a follow-on assignment to the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. He then volunteered for Special Forces after attending Airborn School in 1961 and for the next 13 years of his life, he served the Special Forces with the 7th, 3rd, 6th, and 5th Special Forces Groups (Airborne).
Adkins was deployed to Vietnam for three non-consecutive tours while in the Special Forces: the first was for six months, beginning in February 1963. The second tour started in September 1965 and lasted for a year. The last one was from January 1971 until December that same year.
His second tour in Vietnam was when the most remarkable actions would happen. On March 9, 1966, then-Sergeant First Class Bennie Adkins was at Camp A Shau, serving as an Intelligence Sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces.
Their early morning hours were welcomed by a large force of North Vietnamese soldiers attacking them. Sergeant Adkins did not waste a second and rushed amidst the hail of enemy fire to man a mortar position to defend the camp.
The enemy mortars hit him on a few occasions, and he incurred wounds from them. But Adkins was undeterred. He continued fighting. When he heard that several soldiers were wounded, he left his position and had another soldier man it so he could run through the mortar rounds and onto his wounded comrades’ position. Without hesitation, he dragged several of them to safety. When the hostilities subsided, Adkins exposed himself to the enemy snipers so he could carry the wounded soldiers to a safer area.
He exposed himself to enemy bullets even more while transporting a wounded man to an airstrip, and if all these were not enough yet, members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group who had defected to fight with the Viet Cong began firing at them, too, with their heavy small arms. The rest of his official citation will narrate what happened next,
When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Sergeant First Class Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies. During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966 enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Sergeant First Class Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions.
Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Sergeant First Class Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong. Sergeant First Class Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker.
After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Sergeant First Class Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker and fought their way out of the camp. While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Sergeant First Class Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.
Receiving the MoH
After the long hours of fighting and evacuation with his mortars, recoilless rifles, small arms, machine guns, and hand grenades, it was estimated that Adkins killed some 135 to 175 enemy soldiers. For his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in April 1967. Forty-six years later, in 2013, the Senate Armed Service Committee passed a revision that removed the time limit for Adkins as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014.
On September 15, 2014, President Obama upgraded his initial award to the Medal of Honor and presented it to him in a ceremony. At the same time, he became part of the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
Sadly, Adkins was one of the millions who fell victim to COVID-19 that took his life in 2020. He was 86.