Two Medals of Honor for Vietnam War Heroism
In a White House ceremony held September 15, 2014, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to retired Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins and the late Specialist 4 Donald P. Sloat for their heroism in Vietnam War combat. Dr. Bill Sloat accepted the posthumous award on behalf of his brother.
During the ceremony, Obama explained: “Normally, the Medal of Honor must be awarded within a few years of the action. But sometimes even the most extraordinary stories can get lost in the fog of war or the passage of time. Yet, when new evidence comes to light, certain actions can be reconsidered for this honor, and it is entirely right and proper that we have done so.”
Bennie G. Adkins
The heroic actions of then Sergeant 1st Class Adkins took place March 9-12, 1966, while he was serving as the intelligence sergeant for Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, at Camp A Shau in northwestern South Vietnam near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the early morning hours of March 9, a large force of North Vietnam Army (NVA) soldiers and Viet Cong guerrillas launched a massive attack on the isolated camp. A narrative of the battle recounts Adkins’ incredible bravery throughout the three-day ordeal:
Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position, continuing his defense of the camp despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit took several direct hits from enemy mortars. Upon learning that some of his fellow soldiers were wounded near the camp’s center, he turned the weapon over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several of his comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, he exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying the wounded men to the camp dispensary.
When Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and to draw fire away from the aircraft, all the while successfully covering the rescue. When a resupply airdrop landed beyond the camp perimeter, Adkins again went outside the camp walls to retrieve the much-needed supplies.
During the early morning hours of March 10, enemy forces launched their main attack; within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all his mortar rounds were expended, he began placing effective rifle fire upon enemy fighters as they infiltrated the camp perimeter and assaulted his position. Despite receiving additional wounds, he fought off relentless waves of attacking North Vietnamese fighters.
After withdrawing to a communications bunker with a small element of soldiers, Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire, almost exhausting his ammunition supply. He returned to the mortar pit, gathered more ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. Then, ordered to evacuate the camp, he and a small group of men destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way through the rear of the bunker and fought their way out of the camp.
While carrying one of the wounded to the extraction point, Adkins learned that the last helicopter had already departed. He then led his group into the jungle, and the men evaded the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12. During the 38-hour battle and 48 hours of escape and evasion, Adkins killed an estimated 135-175 enemy soldiers while sustaining 18 different wounds to his body.
Donald P. Sloat
Specialist 4 Sloat was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for his selfless act that saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the cost of his own life on January 17, 1970, while he was serving as a machine-gunner in D Company, 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. A narrative of the battle states:
D Company operated out of Fire Support Base Hawk Hill in an area of I Corps. The unit was located south and southwest of Danang, providing security for local villages and conducting regular searches for NVA units. The territory the men patrolled stretched from the coastal lowlands to the mountains and jungle. North Vietnamese and Viet Cong activity was common in the area, and D Company regularly suffered casualties from snipers and booby traps.
On the morning of January 17, Sloat’s squad was conducting a patrol, serving as a blocking element in support of tanks and armored personnel carriers from a brigade reconnaissance unit, F Troop, 17th Armored Cavalry Regiment, in the Que Son Valley. As the squad moved through dense jungle up a small hill in single-file formation, the lead soldier tripped a wire attached to a hand grenade booby trap set up by enemy forces. When the grenade rolled down the hill toward Sloat, he had a choice: hit the ground and seek cover, or pick up the grenade and throw it away from his comrades.
After initially attempting to throw the grenade, Sloat realized that detonation was imminent and that the men near him would be killed or seriously injured if he couldn’t shield them from the blast. In an instant, he chose to draw the grenade to his body, thus protecting his squad mates from the explosion and saving their lives.
– From an article by David Vergun of Army News Service.
“Cobra King,” the First Tank to Break the Siege of Bastogne
On December 16, 1944, Adolf Hitler launched the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, precipitating the Battle of the Bulge. (See Special Feature, January 2015ACG.) Although the Germans had the element of surprise and morale was high among the well equipped and experienced frontline troops leading the attack,the American defenders slowed the advance enough to seriously disrupt the German timetable.
By December 20, however,elements of German 5th Panzer Army’s XLVII Panzer Corps(consisting of Panzer Lehr and2d Panzer divisions and 26thVolksgrenadier Division) had encircled the town of Bastogne,an important road hub and the headquarters location of U.S.VIII Corps. Just the day before,around 11,000 101st Airborne Division troopers had joined a like number of soldiers from other units of tanks, tank destroyers, engineers and artillery to form a perimeter around Bastogne to defend it against the German besiegers.
Relieving forces from General George S. Patton’s U.S. 3dArmy launched an assault from the south and within four days drew near the besieged town.Many of the beleaguered defenders spent Christmas Day fighting off attacks by German tanks and infantry. By the afternoon of the 26th, the tank battalion of Combat Command Reserve, 4thArmored Division, was still four miles southwest of Bastogne.
Supported by artillery, a team commanded by Captain William A. Dwight consisting of infantrymen, eight tanks, a halftrack and additional vehicles made the final push to break the siege. Driving at full speed, the team entered the town of Assenois, less than two miles from the Bastogne perimeter, with all guns blazing as friendly support artillery fell around it.
Despite orders to push on to Bastogne, several tanks and infantrymen became engaged infighting within Assenois. Three tanks surged ahead of the others,and German infantrymen threw mines between the separated vehicles. The half track was destroyed when it struck one of them. Dwight dismounted his tank to clear away the mines in the vehicles’ path, while the tanks ahead of him continued forward.
First Lieutenant Charles P.Boggess, commanding Company C, 37th Tank Battalion, led the attack with a tank nicknamed“Cobra King.” Spotting a German pillbox, he immediately destroyed the enemy position with two rounds. After moving past the woods beyond the pillbox, the tankers came upon a clearing and foxholes manned by members of 326th Airborne Engineers. Thus, “Cobra King” was the first tank to link up with the battered defenders of Bastogne and break the city’s siege.
This historically significant vehicle (registration No. 3083084) was manufactured by the Fisher Tank Arsenal. On March 28, 1945, “Cobra King” became a combat loss during fighting at Lager Hammelburg. It was later used for spare parts, until it went on display in the 1950s.
The special-built assault tank was based on the M4A3 chassis with an up-armored T23 turret. Originally constructed with a 75 mm gun as an M4A3E2, it was later up-gunned to 76 mm. Other modifications to the original build included removing the heavy counterweight on the mantlet; raising the tank commander’s sight; removing and replacing the track and duckbill end connectors; removing the gun rest from the front slope; adding an over-engine compartment; modifying the turret basket by adding a 76 mm ammo ready-rack and gunner’s seat; and replacing the 75 mm ammo storage with a 76 mm stowage box welded in place.
The tank sustained exterior combat damage on its right front, above the fender. Its left #3 road wheel station was replaced with a right-side road wheel station, apparently also due to combat damage.
As part of the U.S. Army Core Collection, this historic vehicle is scheduled to be included in the National Museum of the U.S. Army (armyhistory.org), slated to open in 2019.
– Submitted by Dieter Stenger, Curator, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
The Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas, is “all about Ike,” featuring exhibits, archives and educational programs that preserve the lasting legacy of General of the Army and President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower. For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit eisenhower.archives.gov.
USO Delaware Families of the Fallen Program at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, provides valuable travel support to families of military members killed in action and lends assistance to escorts who bring America’s fallen heroes back to their final destinations. To support this worthy cause, visit us.uso.org/Delaware/USODelaware-Families-of-the-Fallen/.
Preserving Cedar Creek Battlefield
October 19, 2014, marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. After a surprise attack on the morning of October 19, 1864, brought General Jubal Early’s Confederate troops to the brink of victory, General Philip H. Sheridan arrived on the battlefield to rally Union forces and win the decisive battle that extinguished any hope the South had of holding the resource-rich valley. (See Ralph Peters’ Battle Studies article “The Battle of Cedar Creek” in the November 2014 issue of ACG.)
To kick off the anniversary commemoration, representatives of Belle Grove Inc.,the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Shenandoah County, and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation joined the Civil War Trust at Belle Grove Plantation on the battlefield to reaffirm the unique partnerships that have resulted in several recent preservation victories. Founded in 2002, the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is among a handful of our nation’s public-private partnership parks and has proved the viability of the management model. Together, the participating groups have saved approximately 1,692 acres of the historic battlefield’s landscape.
At the event, the Civil War Trust announced the purchase and preservation of 6.7 acres of core battleground north of Middletown. While the Trust had previously protected a property known as Rienzi’s Knoll, the new acreage is the first time land within the Park Service boundary has been protected on the battlefield’s northern portion. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, meanwhile, shared additional details of its recent protection of the 179-acreIsland Farm property on the battlefield’s southern end.
Additionally, the partner groups announced the launch of a new website, saving cedarcreek.org, to showcase the ways in which their united efforts are focusing attention on the region’s rich history and providing a platform to advocate for future preservation, interpretation and advocacy initiatives.
“There is no time more fitting to trumpet these preservation successes than on the eve of the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Cedar Creek,” said Civil War Trust president James Lighthizer, who is also a member of the ACG advisory board.“The steadfast determination of all our partners in the valley has made this park an outstanding example of what such combined and focused efforts can do to secure the legacy of this hallowed ground. Today, 150years after brave men fought and died here, we are honored to stand in such good company saluting their memory.”
– From a press release by the Civil War Trust (civilwar.org).
Tensions continue to run high in eastern Ukraine as Ukrainian government troops battle pro-Russia separatists backed by the Putin regime in Moscow. On September 28, 2014, pro-Ukrainian demonstrators in the eastern city of Kharkov – Ukraine’s second largest city and the country’s principal industrial center – decided to send Russia an unmistakable “hands-off!” message. A small number of them gathered in Kharkov’s city center and, gaining more members as they went, marched to Svobodi (“Freedom”) Square, which since 1964 during the Soviet era had been the site of a nearly 30-foot-tall statue of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of Soviet Communism, sitting atop a 40-foot-tall red marble base. The crowd apparently decided it was long past time for Lenin to go. After some demonstrators arrived with chain saws to cut through Lenin’s ankles, the statue came tumbling down, leaving only his oversized shoes remaining on top of the marble base.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.