Obama awards Medal of Honor to 2 Vietnam soldiers — 1 living, 1 KIA

By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 15, 2014

WASHINGTON — Running through sniper and mortar fire to retrieve wounded comrades and ammunition, fighting off Vietnamese soldiers, digging an escape tunnel to help his fellow soldiers survive a brutal assault, all while bleeding from multiple wounds — the full story of Bennie Adkins’ heroism during a deadly 38-hour battle could not fit in a 20-minute ceremony.

“Bennie performed so many acts of bravery that we don’t have time to talk about all of them,” President Barack Obama said in a ceremony Monday awarding the Medal of Honor to Adkins and, posthumously, Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat, who covered a grenade to save his fellow soldiers.

RELATED: Full Stars and Stripes coverage of the Medal of Honor

Adkins, who was a sergeant first class on his second tour in Vietnam at the time, is credited with killing 135 to 175 Vietnamese and was wounded 18 times during the battle while running back and forth between a mortar position and no-man’s land. Despite his injuries, he refused to be evacuated while other wounded soldiers needed medical help and ended up spending an extra night on a mountainside with fellow soldiers, surrounded by Vietnamese soldiers. At one point, the night before Adkins and his remaining comrades were rescued, they heard a tiger growl from the jungle — a growl he credits with scaring away the Viet Cong.

For Adkins and the family of Sloat, the recognition was decades in the making.

Sloat made his fatal decision — credited with saving the lives of three fellow soldiers — in 1970 after another soldier triggered a trip wire and the attached grenade rolled to Sloat’s feet. He was 20 years old and serving as a machine gunner with 3rd Platoon, Delta Company, 2/1 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

“Don did something truly amazing — he reached down and picked that grenade up,” Obama said. At first Sloat looked to throw the grenade, but seeing U.S. soldiers all around him, covered it instead.

“So Don held on to that grenade,” Obama said, “and he pulled it close to his body. And he bent over it. And then, as one of the men said, ‘all of a sudden there was a boom.’

“The blast threw the lead soldier up against a boulder,” Obama continued. “Men were riddled with shrapnel. Four were medevaced out, but everyone else survived.”

For Adkins, it took nearly 50 years to be recognized for leading fellow soldiers through the harrowing battle in 1966 while serving as an intelligence sergeant with detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces.

“Sometimes even the most extraordinary stories get lost in the fog of war,” Obama said.

Sloat’s brother, Bill Sloat, was on hand to accept the award and expressed gratitude in brief comments following the ceremony. For decades, Sloat’s family was unaware of the details of his death.

“On behalf of my brother, Donald P. Sloat, I’d like to thank our country for this great award,” he said.

Adkins, now 80 and living in Alabama, went on to serve another tour in Vietnam and achieved the rank of command sergeant major. With halting steps, he took the stage in the East Room of the White House to accept his award, which he dedicated to the five soldiers who died in the battle and accepted on behalf of the soldiers who fought with him.

“This is strictly a humbling experience,” he said.

Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes


Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins accepts the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on Sept. 15, 2014.