More than 150 graduates of the Noncommissioned Officer Candidate Course, 1976-1972, visited the installation Oct. 3-7 for their annual reunion.
Over the course of their visit, they observed an Airborne operational brief at Eubanks Field, toured McGinnis-Wickam Hall, met with Maneuver Center of Excellence Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Metheny, toured the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade and Ranger Hall of Fame, Abrams Training Division, Bradley Training Division and the Armor Restoration Facility.
They wrapped up the reunion with a dinner at the National Infantry Museum Oct. 6, where retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins gave the keynote address. During his speech, Adkins shared memories of a Vietnam battle that would later earn him the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the U.S.
Adkins, who served in the Army for 22 years, received the Medal of Honor in 2014 for the heroism he showed as an intelligence sergeant with the Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, in a 38-hour battle against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces at Camp A Shau.
Adkins joked that he was a “REMF,” a non-endearing term used by Soldiers on the frontline that referred to those who served in support roles. But that title didn’t stick.
Adkins said he was on the campsite in A Shau Valley for more than 120 days before they were attacked, but he always felt that the North Vietnamese Soldiers were zeroing their weapons at him.
Adkins said one day two Chieu Hoi, supporters of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese who deserted, came to the camp.
“They came in and through the interrogation we determined that we were going to be attacked, but we didn’t know that we were going to be attacked with a full division, with additional artillery,” he said. “And they had set it where the battle would happen in bad weather.”
Adkins said the weather was a detrimental factor in the attack because their only support was by air. Adkins said they had around 400 indigenous troops in the camp and one company decided to fight with the North Vietnamese during the early stages of the battle.
“So, I was fighting with the enemy. It became not only the troops assaulting us, but a mass assault,” he said. Adkins said the enemy in the camp always chanted before mass assaults and he noticed that one of the North Vietnamese commanders was using a green star cluster as a signal for enemy infantry to attack.
“I said you know I might find one of those. And, I got around to my firing position and came up with a green star cluster and the next time they started firing heavy artillery and mortar fire I popped off a green star,” he said. “The North Vietnamese artillery helped us out with that company.”
Adkins was one of 17 Army Special Forces Soldiers in the camp. All 17 were wounded and five paid the ultimate price, he said.
Adkins said the Army flew in an aircraft from Thailand to pick up a wounded Special Forces Soldier, but broke in to bad weather and was shot down.
“They sent another one in to pick up the crew, and I was fortunate enough to put this (wounded) special forces sergeant on the aircraft and get him medical attention,” he said.
When he got on the aircraft Adkins saw several of the indigenous personnel on the aircraft.
“There was nothing wrong with them. They just wanted a ride out,” he said.
When Adkins told them to get off the aircraft, one of the troops pointed a gun towards him.
“Well, he made a big mistake,” Adkins said. I had a rifle on me and the general who was wounded had a rifle on him. But (the indigenous soldier) stood up in the door of the helicopter and the North Vietnamese soldier shot him and killed him. It wasn’t my day to go.”
Adkins said eventually the enemy overran them with numbers.
“They decided they were going to eliminate me with grenades,” he said. “The first few would either be short or long and they got one in to my firing position and one of the indigenous tried to play soccer with it. He lost a leg and I got a little shrapnel out of it.”
Adkins said he was able to catch one of the grenades and throw it back where it came from.