Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Vietnam, passed away from complications due to the coronavirus at the age of 86.
He contracted the virus in late March and was admitted to the East Alabama Medical Center and then moved into the intensive care unit where he ultimately passed away from the disease.
“We lost a great husband, father, and warrior today. Bennie G. Adkins passed away this afternoon. Please keep his family in your prayers,” the Adkins family posted on Twitter yesterday.
The Bennie Adkins Foundation released a statement on Friday evening that said, “We are deeply saddened to notify you that after a courageous battle with COVID-19, Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins departed this life today, with beloved family at his bedside.”
Adkins served 22 years in the United States Army after being drafted in 1956 out of Oklahoma. Originally classified as a clerk/typist, he volunteered for Special Forces training in 1961. He would spend more than 13 years in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th Special Forces Groups. He served three tours of duty in Vietnam.
Adkins was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2014, by President Obama, for his actions in the A Shau Valley in Vietnam in 1966 as an Intelligence Sergeant with the 5th SFG.
The battle of A Shau Valley took place from March 9 to 12. During the battle, Adkins would receive 18 different wounds. The SF camp at A Shau was at the southern end of the valley, five miles from the Laotian border. It was strategically important to the North Vietnamese as it could serve as a staging base for attacks to the south — as indeed it did during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
The camp had 10 Green Beret advisors and 210 Montagnard Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) strikers. Intelligence and reconnaissance patrols believed that the North Vietnamese were going to make a concerted effort to take the camp. Two days before the battle, A Shau was reinforced with seven more SF personnel, nine interpreters, and a MIKE Force Company, which brought its strength up to 17 SF and about 417 CIDG personnel. They would face 2,000 NVA troops.
The NVA smashed into the camp on March 9 but were kept at bay by the defenses augmented by an AC-47 Spooky gunship that brought devastating fire on the NVA. But the gunship was shot down and three of the crewmen were killed by the NVA after the crash, while the other three were saved by USAF rescue personnel.
On March 10, the NVA finally broke through the camp’s defenses and the surviving troops were forced to abandon the camp.
Adkins’ actions were detailed in his MOH citation.
“During the 38-hour battle and 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 sustaining 18 different wounds.”
He initially manned a mortar position that brought devastating fire on the enemy; he suffered several wounds from the NVA while operating the mortar. He then dashed through enemy fire and carried wounded comrades to the aid station before crossing open terrain to go outside the wire to retrieve a misdropped aerial resupply bundle.
Returning to the mortar, he fired until all of the rounds were expended and then moved to a recoilless rifle position and brought more fire on the charging enemy. Moving to the communications bunker, he eliminated several more enemy troops with his rifle before the camp had to be abandoned. He was carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point only to find the last helicopters had left.
That began a 48-hour escape and evasion until he and the wounded soldier were also were rescued by helicopters on March 12, 1966.
His rescue was surprisingly aided by a 400-lb tiger that was stalking the Americans and CIDG strikers. “We started hearing a noise and then we could see the eyes — about a 400-pound Indonesian tiger was stalking us that night,” Adkins said in an interview with Military.com a few years ago. “The North Vietnamese soldiers — they backed away from us” because of the tiger “and gave us room and we were able to get away,” he added.
Later in his career, Adkins graduated from the Sergeant Major’s Academy and then returned briefly to SF before becoming the Command Sergeant Major for the Jungle Operations Training Center at Fort Sherman, Panama. He retired in 1978.
Adkins remained very humble and soft-spoken but immediately became popular with the young people that he’d come in contact with. After his MOH ceremony, he opened up a Facebook page trying to bring attention to his Foundation and friended every past and present Special Forces soldier (including this one) that he could come into contact with.
He will be missed… RIP CSM.