Legendary Medal of Honor Recipient Now 'Critically Ill' with Coronavirus

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins, left, reacts to a joke made by President Barack Obama during a Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2014. (DoD News photo/EJ Hersom)

Retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, a Special Operations legend and recipient of the Medal of Honor for his "above and beyond" valor in Vietnam, has been listed in critical condition with coronavirus, his foundation announced Thursday.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has hit home. Bennie has been hospitalized and is critically ill with COVID-19 respiratory failure. We ask for your thoughts and prayers," the Bennie Adkins Foundation, which provides scholarships to troops, said in a Facebook post.

The tightly knit community of 70 living MOH recipients immediately rallied in support of the 86-year-old Adkins, who received the medal from President Barack Obama in 2014 for his actions 48 years earlier in brutal combat in Vietnam's forbidding A Shau valley.

Related: 41-Year-Old Medal of Honor Hero Now Faces Fight on New Battlefield

"I'd ask everyone to send a prayer for him and his family," said former Army Staff Sgt. Ron Shurer, who received the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump in 2018 for his life-saving actions in 2008 as a medic in Afghanistan's Shok valley.

"He's one hell of a warrior and will face this foe fiercely like he has all in his past," Shurer, who is himself battling cancer, said on Instagram.

Adkins' son, Keith, told the Opelika-Auburn News in Alabama that his father was recently admitted to the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Adkins' hometown.

"We're very appreciative of the prayers and support from people, frankly, from around the country. We're hopeful for the best, but realistic as well," Keith Adkins said. "We're very grateful for the doctors and staff and everyone at EAMC for the job they're doing."

Adkins is believed to be the first MOH recipient to be diagnosed with the virus that has spread worldwide, with the most confirmed cases being reported in the U.S.

In a 2018 interview with Military.com, the plainspoken and outgoing Adkins, originally from Waurika, Oklahoma, went into detail on how a sawed-off shotgun and a tiger helped him survive against the North Vietnamese in a three-day battle on the second of his three tours in Vietnam.

"The tiger kinda' helped" in scaring off the enemy, Adkins said.

First, though, he had wanted to talk about his foundation, which provides scholarships to transitioning Special Operations troops.

"Looks like this year we'll probably do 25 scholarships," he said.

In March 1966, Adkins said he had just been put into an administrative position in Danang when his sergeant major approached.

"We just had a man in the A Shau hit, and we have to send you out there," he recalled the sergeant major saying.

"So I didn't get to do any of that rear-echelon stuff."

He joined two officers and 10 enlisted troops from the Fifth Special Forces Group at Camp A Shau, in the triple-canopy valley that ran west from Hue city to the Ho Chi Minh trail.

In addition, "they had the worst of the Vietnamese Special Forces in there and the CIDG" -- the Civilian Irregular Defense Group of paramilitaries, Adkins said.

At about 2 a.m. on March 9, 1966, "they hit us," Adkins said. "They laid down some mortar, 82 and 120 mortars on us initially. Then mass assaults."

Adkins fought back from his own 81mm mortar position, and "then it got down to individual weapons and hand grenade fighting," he said.

One of Adkins' individual weapons was a sawed-off shotgun. So many years later, Adkins still wasn't quite sure how that weapon squared with the Geneva Conventions, but "I did use it, I did, and a lot of hand grenades."

After 38 hours, the order to evacuate was given, but Adkins fought on for another two days.

At one point, the North Vietnamese had his unit surrounded at night.

"We started hearing a noise and then we could see the eyes -- about a 400-pound Indonesian tiger was stalking us that night."

The enemy was even more concerned than they were.

"The North Vietnamese soldiers -- they backed away from us and gave us room and we were able to get away," he said.

His medal citation stated that:

"During the thirty-eight-hour battle and forty-eight hours of escape and evasion, fighting with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, it was estimated that Sergeant First Class Adkins killed between 135 and 175 of the enemy while sustaining eighteen different wounds to his body."

Adkins was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in the A Shau. During his three tours in Vietnam, he also earned two Bronze Stars with Combat "V" device and three Purple Hearts.

Forty-eight years later, Obama approved the upgrade of Adkins' DSC to the Medal of Honor.

"I have to be honest," Obama said at the White House ceremony. "Bennie performed so many acts of bravery, we actually don't have time to list them all. Bennie ran into enemy fire again and again."

Adkins retired from the military in 1978. He earned a college degree and two masters degrees from Troy State University and ran his own accounting firm before heading the Bennie G. Adkins Foundation.

Adkins stressed that proceeds from his book, "A Tiger Among Us: A Story of Valor in Vietnam's A Shau Valley, "is not for me. The funding is for doing scholarships."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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