For decades, Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat’s mother thought he had died after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam. Then, in 2010, she heard the real story: Her son was killed saving the lives of the other men in his squad.
Evelyn Sloat died before she learned that her efforts to have her son recognized for his heroism were successful. But on Monday, nearly 45 years after Sloat’s death, his brother, Bill Sloat, will accept the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins was recognized for his actions during the second of his three tours to Vietnam, with a Distinguished Service Cross. But 48 years after the 38-hour fight in Camp A Shau, Vietnam, he, too, will receive the nation’s highest award for military personnel.
Sloat enlisted in the Army in 1969, when he was 20 years old, and became a machine gunner with 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.
On Jan. 17, 1970, a month before his 21st birthday, Sloat was on patrol when the lead soldier tripped a booby trap, sending a grenade rolling down the hill toward him. Sloat picked up the grenade to throw it away from his fellow soldiers, but realized it was about to explode. So he pulled the grenade into his own body, to shield the rest of his squad from the blast.
Former Pfc. DeWayne C. Lewis Jr. said he was only a few feet behind Sloat with the grenade went off.
“His act saved my life,” he said, according to an Army website.
Bill Sloat told the Coweta American, an Oklahoma newspaper, that he will accept his brother’s medal for his mother’s sake.
“I don’t think it would have mattered to Don if he had [the medal], but he would be proud of it, and I’m proud of it,” he said at a news conference last month.
One of Sloat’s two sisters, Karen McCaslin, said at the news conference her brother was a “true American hero in every sense of the word. … He chose his path into the Army because it was what he wanted to do.”
While Sloat volunteered, Adkins was drafted into the Army in 1956, when he was 22.
He was initially assigned as an administrative clerk-typist, but later volunteered for and served with Special Forces for 13 years. He deployed to Vietnam from February to August of 1963, from September 1965 to September 1966, and from January to December 1971.
On March 9, 1966, then-Sgt. 1st Class Adkins was serving as an intelligence sergeant with Detachment 102-A, 5th Special Force Group, 1st Special Forces, when the camp was attacked by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. Adkins ran through intense fire to man a mortar position to defend the camp, and continued his defense even after he was hit several times by enemy mortar fire. When he heard that several of his fellow soldiers were injured, he ran through mortar fire to drag them to safety.
Later, he braved sniper, mortar and small-arms fire to transport the wounded to the camp dispensary and then to an airstrip for evacuation.
But the main assault was still to come. Early on March 10, enemy fighters attacked again, and Adkins was soon the only soldier manning a mortar to defend the camp. When he ran out of rounds, he used a rifle to fire at the enemy infiltrating the camp, according to the Army narrative of his actions.
“Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off relentless waves of attacking Viet Cong,” the Army narrative reads.
Adkins continued to fight, shooting more enemy troops and returning to the mortar pit under intense fire to retrieve additional ammunition. When ordered to evacuate, he and a few of his fellow soldiers first destroyed signal equipment and classified documents and dug their way out the back of the bunker before fighting their way out of the camp.
Adkins and his group did not reach the last evacuation helicopter in time because he was carrying a wounded soldier, so he led the group into the jungle and continued to evade enemy forces for two days before they were rescued on March 12, the Army said.
The Army estimates that Adkins killed between 135 and 175 enemy troops, received 18 different wounds and used at least five types of weapons during the four-day period.
Adkins served 12 more years in the Army and retired in 1978.
“Basically, it’s a very humbling experience to be recommended for the Medal of Honor, and what I attribute this to is not my actions, but the actions of the other 16 Americans that were with us,” particularly the five who made the ultimate sacrifice, Adkins said earlier this month during a news conference at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Ga.
“It was a horrible, horrible type of battle,” he said, and only about 120 of the roughly 410 indigenous soldiers at the camp survived.
In addition to the bloody battle, Adkins said the American soldiers were stalked by a tiger while waiting for rescue. But that worked in their favor, he said, because the North Vietnamese were more afraid of the tiger than of the soldiers.
“It was just not my time that day,” he said.