Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sen. Charles Schumer of NY announced that legislation passed to consider Medal of Honor

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the provision he authored, which would make late World War I hero and Albany NY resident, Sergeant Henry Johnson, eligible to receive the Medal of Honor has passed both the House and the Senate. Schumer worked with Rep. Paul Tonko and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to include this provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that was unveiled earlier this week. Now that the bill has passed both chambers of Congress, this provision will head to the President’s desk. Schumer is urging the President quickly provide final signature for this bill Once the president signs this bill into law, he will then be able to consider the actual Medal of Honor request.

Schumer has led the fight to get Sgt. Henry Johnson, an African-American WWI hero, the Medal of Honor he has long been denied due to segregation, but deserves for his bravery and heroism during WWI. Schumer explained that, under current law, a Medal of Honor must be awarded within five years of when the heroic act being recognized took place. Therefore, before the President could consider the Medal of Honor application Schumer submitted on Johnson’s behalf, Congress had to pass legislation specifically allowing Sgt. Johnson’s case to be considered. In his efforts to try to make this a reality, Schumer first introduced and passed a bill in the Senate that would waive the timing restriction and allow Johnson’s application to be considered by the President, and Tonko introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. To supplement this effort, just last month, Schumer launched an additional strategy to get this provision for Sgt. Johnson signed into law. In addition to trying to pass a stand-alone bill through both houses of Congress, Schumer successfully pushed for an amendment to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which also waives the timing restrictions on the Medal of Honor and enables the President to consider the Medal of Honor request.

“Sgt. Henry Johnson is a true American hero, who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery, and he deserves the Medal of Honor he was denied because of segregation. Johnson’s family has waited long enough for the recognition Johnson should have received almost a century ago. That is why I am pleased to announce today that we have finally passed a provision in Congress that will enable the President to consider this Medal of Honor request. With the passage of this bill, and eventually the President’s signature, we are now one step away from the finish line,” said Schumer. “The next step is for the President to consider the Medal of Honor request and, I hope and pray, to approve it. I will not stop pushing until this is a reality. Sgt. Henry Johnson left an indelible mark on America in its time of need, and this recognition would be a true testament to his sacrifice – and all that is best about our country.”

“I am proud that the United States Senate brought Sergeant Henry Johnson one step closer to the
Medal of Honor that he deserves,” said Senator Wyden.  “I will continue working with Senator
Schumer and others until this true American hero receives the recognition he has earned.”  

Sergeant Henry Johnson, an African American who was part of the “Harlem Hellfighters” that served under French Command due to segregation, was not properly recognized for gallantry during his lifetime. During World War I, then-private Henry Johnson fought with the French on the Western Front because of discriminatory laws in the United States. On May 14, 1918, Johnson came under attack by a German raider party of approximately 20 men. Despite sustaining numerous gunshot wounds, Johnson fought off an entire German advance, rescued his fellow soldier from certain capture, and acquired a large cache of enemy weapons. Schumer said that Johnson accomplished these actions with little training, a jammed rifle, and a bolo knife against an overwhelming German unit that was well trained during a raid that was carefully planned and meant to capture prisoners. Schumer said that, if not for Johnson’s bravery, with total disregard for his own life, his fellow soldiers would have been captured, a cache of weapons and supplies would not have been acquired by the allies, and valuable intelligence would have gone to the enemy. Johnson, who was permanently disabled after the fight, was issued a communique from General Pershing commending his service, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the highest military honors of France, for his bravery in battle.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Medal of Honor Grove, Phoenixville, PA Oldest Living Memorial To Recipients

Each state is represented.  The photos below are of the Louisiana Acre and Obelisk where World War II Medal of Honor recipient Homer L. Wise is honored. A recent visitor to the Grove was World War II  Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams, hero of Iwo Jima.

Photos courtesy of  Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fort Lee, New Jersey leads nation in honoring our heroes

The City of Fort Lee, New Jersey just across the the George Washington Bridge, showed us an impressive way to honor all those who serve.  Just think if every high school across America followed Fort Lee's  example of extraordinary patriotism.

Photo credits: medalofhonornews.com

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Remarks by the President at Medal of Honor Presentation to Alonzo H. Cushing

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
November 06, 2014                                               Watch Presentation

Roosevelt Room
12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Please, everyone, have a seat.  Well, on behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.  One hundred fifty-one years ago, as our country struggled for its survival, President Lincoln dedicated the battlefield at Gettysburg as “a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live.”  Today, the nation that lived pauses to pay tribute to one of those who died there -- to bestow the Medal of Honor, our highest military decoration, upon First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing.

Now, typically, this medal must be awarded within a few years of the action.  But sometimes even the most extraordinary stories can get lost in the passage of time.  So I want to thank the more than two dozen family members of Lieutenant Cushing who are here -- including his cousin, twice removed, Helen Loring Ensign, from Palm Desert, California, who will accept this medal.  For this American family, this story isn’t some piece of obscure history -- it is an integral part of who they are.  And today, our whole nation shares their pride, and celebrates what this story says about who we are.

This award would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of supporters who worked for decades to make this day a reality.  And I want to especially acknowledge Margaret Zerwekh, who is a historian from Delafield, Wisconsin, where Lieutenant Cushing was born.  And there’s Margaret back there.  Good to see you, Margaret.  Margaret is also the granddaughter of a Union veteran, and lives on a property that was once owned by Cushing’s father.  When she discovered this story, she spent over 25 years researching, writing letters, and raising her voice to ensure that this American soldier received the recognition that he so richly he deserved.  And what’s more, she even managed to bring Republicans and Democrats together -- (laughter) -- to make this happen.  Margaret, we may call on you again sometime in the next several months.  (Laughter.)

Yet this medal is about more than one soldier or one family.  It reflects our obligations as a country to the men and women in our armed services -- obligations that continue long after they return home, after they’ve removed their uniforms, and even -- perhaps especially -- after they’ve laid down their lives.  And so this medal is a reminder that no matter how long it takes, it is never too late to do the right thing.

Alonzo, or “Lon,” Cushing was raised by his widowed mother in Fredonia, NY with his siblings, including three brothers who also fought for the Union.  As the congressman who recommended Lon to West Point wrote, “His mother is poor, but highly committed and her son will do honor to the position.”  After graduating from West Point, Lon was assigned to Battery A, 4th United States Artillery.  From Bull Run to Antietam, from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg, Lon fought bravely and developed a reputation for his cool, his competence, and his courage under fire.

But it was at Gettysburg, what one newspaper later called “emphatically a soldiers’ battle,” where Lon would be immortalized.  It was July 3rd, 1863, the final day of a grueling three-day fight.  Lon commanded his battery along the wall on Cemetery Ridge, fending off punishing fire from General Lee’s Confederate troops in advance of what we now know as Pickett’s Charge.  In the chaos and smoke, Lon and his men could barely see ahead of them.  One colonel later described the “terrible grandeur of that rain of missiles and that chaos of strange and terror-spreading sounds.”

Lon was hit and badly wounded.  His first sergeant -- a soldier by the name of Frederick Fuger -- urged him to go to the rear.  But Lon refused and said he’d “fight it out, or die in the attempt.”  Bleeding and weak, he moved his remaining guns closer to the front.  Over 10,000 Confederate infantrymen advanced, elbow to elbow, in rows over a mile wide.  Peering through field glasses, Lon ordered his men to continue firing at the advancing columns.  He used his own thumb to stop his gun’s vent, burning his fingers to the bone.  When he was hit the final time, as a poet later wrote, “His gun spoke out for him once more before he fell to the ground.”  And Alonzo Cushing was just 22 years old.

In a letter to Lon’s sister, Fuger wrote that the bravery of their men that day “was entirely due to your brother’s training and example set on numerous battlefields.”  Etched on Lon’s tombstone at West Point is the simple epitaph, “Faithful unto death.”  And his memory will be honored later this month, when one of our Navy’s cruisers -- the USS Gettysburg -- dedicates its officer’s dining hall as the “Cushing Wardroom.”

And here today, we know that Lon and the others who fell that day could not -- we know -- we know what they could not -- that Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War.  It’s also proof, if any was needed, that it was thousands of unknown young soldiers, committing unsung acts of heroism, who saved our union, and freed a people, and reaffirmed our nation as “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”  I’m mindful that I might not be standing here today, as President, had it not been for the ultimate sacrifices of those courageous Americans.

Today we honor just one of those men, Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, who, as Lincoln said, gave their “last full measure of devotion.”  His story is part of our larger American story -- one that continues today.  The spirit, the courage, the determination that he demonstrated lives on in our brave men and women in uniform who this very day are serving and making sure that they are defending the freedoms that Alonzo helped to preserve.  And it’s incumbent on all of us as Americans to uphold the values that they fight for, and to continue to honor their service long after they leave the battlefield -- for decades, even centuries to come.

So with that, I’d like to ask Helen to join me for the reading of the citation.

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing, United States Army.

First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing distinguished himself by acts of bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an artillery commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3rd, 1863 during the American Civil War.

That morning, Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee began cannonading First Lieutenant Cushing’s position on Cemetery Ridge.  Using field glasses, First Lieutenant Cushing directed fire for his own artillery battery.  He refused to leave the battlefield after being struck in the shoulder by a shell fragment.  As he continued to direct fire, he was struck again -- this time suffering grievous damage to his abdomen.

Still refusing to abandon his command, he boldly stood tall in the face of Major General George E. Pickett’s charge and continued to direct devastating fire into oncoming forces.  As the Confederate forces closed in, First Lieutenant Cushing was struck in the mouth by an enemy bullet and fell dead beside his gun.

His gallant stand and fearless leadership inflicted severe casualties upon Confederate forces and opened wide gaps in their lines, directly impacting the Union force’s ability to repel Pickett’s charge.  First Lieutenant Cushing’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his own life are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac, and the United States Army.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

President Obama to Award the Medal of Honor

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
October 27, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – On November 6, 2014, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing for conspicuous gallantry.

First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as commanding officer of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac during combat operations in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.

During Longstreet's Assault, also known as Pickett's Charge, First Lieutenant Cushing's battery took a severe pounding by Confederate artillery. As the Confederate Forces advanced, he manned the only remaining, and serviceable, field piece in his battery. During the advance, he was wounded in the abdomen as well as in the right shoulder. Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire. With the Confederate Forces within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand. His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the assault.

First Lieutenant Cushing's cousins, Frederic Stevens Sater and Frederic Cushing Stevens III, and families will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service and sacrifice

Monday, October 6, 2014

442nd Infantry Medal Of Honor Recipient Honored at National Infantry Museum

Parade Field Seeded with Soil from WWII Battlefield

Columbus, Georgia – September 22, 2014: As the United States Army’s newest Soldiers complete their initial training at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, they will march across soil fought for by Daniel Inouye, an Infantryman who earned the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War II. Inouye went on to become one of the U.S. Senate’s most highly regarded and longest serving members before his death in December 2012.

The parade field at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus/Fort Benning, Georgia, was dedicated to Inouye in a ceremony September 12. The dedication was held in conjunction with the graduation of two companies of brand new Soldiers.

The Maneuver Center’s Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, talked to the graduates about the significance of the event. "You will forever be linked with a great Soldier, a courageous Soldier, a heroic Soldier and a great statesman who I wish could be here today," Miller said.

Inouye was born in Honolulu. His grandparents had emigrated from Japan to work in Hawaii’s sugar cane fields. The young Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17, just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat near San Terenzo, Italy, in April 1945 while serving with the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team. Then a second lieutenant, Inouye was shot while leading a charge on a machine gun nest. He kept moving toward the machine gun and managed to throw two grenades before a German-thrown grenade struck and shattered his right arm. Despite the serious wounds, he continued leading his platoon.

"By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance," his Medal of Honor citation said. The Medal was awarded in 2000 – 55 years after the incident – when it was determined that Inouye and 21 other Asian-Americans had been denied the award because of racial bias.

Later, Inouye became Hawaii’s first Congressman. He moved over to the Senate in 1963, and remained there until his death at age 88. He was the Senate pro tempore —the chamber's longest-serving member — and the person third in line to the presidency. He also chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee at the time of his death.

It was in that appropriations committee role that Inouye first learned of plans to construct a new National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, long known as the “home of the Infantry.” He was one of the National Infantry’s Museum’s earliest champions. After a visit by Foundation leaders in 2003, Inouye convinced his colleagues in Congress to award a grant of $8.5 million for construction of the new museum. The grant propelled the museum toward its goal of raising $100 million for the new facility. General Colin Powell cut the ribbon on the museum in June 2009 and it is now considered one of the finest military museums in the world.

The newly named Inouye Field at the National Infantry Museum is the site of about 100 Infantry School graduations each year. At the dedication ceremony Sept. 12, four Soldiers spread soil that had been taken from the spot in Italy where Inouye refused to give up the fight. The four – Pvt. Derrick Tamanaha, Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Zuehlsdorf, Lt. Col. Daniel Austin and Pvt. Peter Heaukulani – all were born in Inouye’s home state of Hawaii, and two serve in the same unit as Inouye, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. Also at the event, a bronze plaque telling Inouye’s story was unveiled. The plaque is mounted to a granite pedestal at the entrance to the parade field. At every graduation going forward, newly minted Soldiers will learn of Inouye’s contributions and march across the sacred soil as they conduct their pass and review.

When the field was first dedicated in 2009, it was consecrated with soil from eight battlefields in Infantry history. Soil came from Redoubt Number 10 in Yorktown, where Alexander Hamilton fought, and from under a tree at the base of Burnside Bridge at Antietam. Samples were collected from the WW I battlefield at Soissons, France, and WWII’s Normandy beach. Soil from Corregidor required the Philippine ambassador’s permission. More samples came from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each sample was spread by a present-day veteran of the battle or a descendant of one who fought there. Spreaders included descendants of Alexander Hamilton, Alvin York, and Theodore Roosevelt. Vietnam veterans General Hal Moore and the late Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley also participated.

Granite markers holding clear containers of soil mark the spots where the soil was spread. The battles represented there are the same ones depicted on the museum’s signature Last 100 Yards exhibit.

The tribute to Daniel Inouye will be seen by hundreds of graduates every week, as well as the thousands of friends and family members who travel from across the country to celebrate their achievement.

The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park, a 200-acre tract linking Columbus, Georgia, and the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, is the first world-class site to pay tribute to the U.S. Army Infantryman and those who fight alongside him. As the only interactive Army Museum in the United States, the museum showcases the contributions of the Infantry Soldier in every war fought by the U.S. by offering immersive participation and engaging visitors in the unique experiences of the Infantry Soldier. The complex also includes a parade field, memorial walk of honor, authentic World War II Company Street and 3-D IMAX® Theatre. For more information, visit www.nationalinfantrymuseum.org.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Americal Division Hero of Vietnam War Donald P. Sloat Awarded Medal of Honor

Army Command Sergeant Bennie Adkins Presented Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
September 15, 2014
Remarks by the President at Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins and Specialist Four Donald Sloat

East Room
Specialist Donald Sloat

1:52 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House.  More than four decades ago, in early 1970, an American squad in Vietnam set out on patrol.  They marched down a trail, past a rice paddy.  Shots rang out and splintered the bamboo above their heads.  The lead soldier tripped a wire -- a booby trap.  A grenade rolled toward the feet of a 20-year-old machine gunner.  The pin was pulled, and that grenade would explode at any moment.

A few years earlier, on the other side of the country, deep in the jungle, a small group of Americans were crouched on top of a small hill.  And it was dark, and they were exhausted; the enemy had been pursuing them for days.  And now they were surrounded, and the enemy was closing in on all sides.

Two discrete moments, but today we honor two American soldiers for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty at each of those moments:  Specialist Donald Sloat, who stood above that grenade, and Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins, who fought through a ferocious battle and found himself on that jungle hill. 
Nearly half a century after their acts of valor, a grateful nation bestows upon these men the highest military decoration –- the Medal of Honor.

Normally, this medal 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.  And that is why we are here today. 

So before I go any further, I want to thank everyone present here today whose research and testimonies and persistence over so many years finally resulted in these two men deserving the recognition they so richly deserve.  I especially want to welcome members of the Medal of Honor Society, as well as two American families whose love and pride has never wavered.

Don Sloat grew up in the heart of Oklahoma in a town called Coweta.  And he grew big -- to over 6’4”.  He loved football, and played for a year at a junior college.  Then he decided to join the Army.  But when he went to enlist, he didn’t pass his physical because of high blood pressure.  So he tried again.  And again.  And again.  In all, he took the physical maybe seven times until he passed -- because Don Sloat was determined to serve his country. 

In Vietnam, Don became known as one of the most liked and reliable guys in his company.  Twice in his first months, his patrol was ambushed; both times, Don responded with punishing fire from his machine gun, leaving himself completely vulnerable to the enemy.  Both times, he was recognized for his bravery.  Or as Don put it in a letter home, “I guess they think [that] I’m really gung-ho or something.”  (Laughter.)  

And then one morning, Don and his squad set out on patrol, past that rice paddy, down that trail, when those shots rang out.  When the lead soldier’s foot tripped that wire and set off the booby trap, the grenade rolled right to Don’s feet.  And at that moment, he could have run.  At that moment, he could have ducked for cover.  But Don did something truly extraordinary -- he reached down and he picked that grenade up.  And he turned to throw it, but there were Americans in front of him and behind him -– inside the kill zone.  So Don held on to that grenade, 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.  Men were riddled with shrapnel.  Four were medevaced out, but everyone else survived.  Don had absorbed the brunt of the explosion with his body.  He saved the lives of those next to him.  And today, we’re joined by two men who were with him on that patrol:  Sergeant William Hacker and Specialist Michael Mulheim.

For decades, Don’s family only knew that he was killed in action.  They’d heard that he had stepped on a landmine.  All those years, this Gold Star family honored the memory of their son and brother, whose name is etched forever on that granite wall not far from here.  Late in her life, Don’s mother, Evelyn, finally learned the full story of her son’s sacrifice.  And she made it her mission to have Don’s actions properly recognized. 

Sadly, nearly three years ago, Evelyn passed away.  But she always believed -- she knew -- that this day would come.  She even bought a special dress to wear to this ceremony.  We are honored that Don -- and his mom -- are represented here today by Don’s brother and sisters and their families.  On behalf of this American family, I’d ask Don’s brother, Dr. Bill Sloat, to come forward for the reading of the citation and accept the gratitude of our nation.

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, United States Army.

Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Machinegunner with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Republic of Vietnam on January 17, 1970.

On that morning, Specialist Four Sloat’s squad was conducting a patrol, serving as a blocking element in support of tanks and armored personnel carriers in the area.  As the squad moved up a small hill in file formation, the lead soldier tripped a wire attached to a hand grenade booby trap set up by enemy forces.  As the grenade rolled down the hill, Specialist Four Sloat knelt and picked up the grenade.  After initially attempting to throw the grenade, Specialist Four Sloat realized that detonation was imminent.  He then drew the grenade to his body and shielded his squad members from the blast, saving their lives. 

Specialist Four Sloat’s actions define the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his own life in order to save the lives of his comrades.  Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division and the United States Army.

[The medal is presented]  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  At this point, I’d like to ask Bennie Adkins to come join me on stage.

Now, let me just say the first thing you need to know is when Bennie and I met in the Oval Office, he asked if he could sign back up.  (Laughter.)  His lovely wife was not amused.  (Laughter.)

Most days, you can find Bennie at home down in Opelika, Alabama, tending his garden or his pontoon boat out on the lake.  He’s been married to Mary for 58 years.  He’s a proud father of five, grandfather of six; at 80 still going strong.  A couple years ago, he came here to the White House with his fellow veterans for a breakfast we had on Veterans Day.  He tells folk  he was the only person he knows who has spilled his dessert in the White House.  (Laughter.)  And I just have to correct you, that makes two of us.  (Laughter.)  I’ve messed up my tie.  I’ve messed up my pants.  (Laughter.)

But in the spring of 1966, Bennie was just 32 years old, on his second tour in Vietnam.  He and his fellow Green Berets were at an isolated camp along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  A huge North Vietnamese force attacked, bombarding Bennie and his comrades with mortars and white phosphorus.  At a time, it was nearly impossible to move without being wounded or killed.  But Bennie ran into enemy fire again and again -- to retrieve supplies and ammo; to carry the wounded to safety; to man the mortar pit, holding off wave after wave of enemy assaults.  Three times, explosions blasted him out of that mortar pit, and three times, he returned. 

I have to be honest, in a battle and daring escape that lasted four days, Bennie performed so many acts of bravery we actually don’t have time to talk about all of them.  Let me just mention three. 

On the first day, Bennie was helping load a wounded American onto a helicopter.  A Vietnamese soldier jumped onto the helo trying to escape the battle, and aimed his weapon directly at the wounded soldier, ready to shoot.  Bennie stepped in, shielded his comrade, placing himself directly in the line of fire, helping to save his wounded comrade. 

At another point in the battle, Bennie and a few other soldiers were trapped in the mortar pit, covered in shrapnel and smoking debris.  Their only exit was blocked by enemy machine gun fire.  So Bennie thought fast.  He dug a hole out of the pit and snuck out the other side.  As another American escaped through that hole, he was shot in the leg.  An enemy soldier charged him, hoping to capture a live POW and Bennie fired, taking out that enemy and pulling his fellow American to safety.

By the third day of battle, Bennie and a few others had managed to escape into the jungle.  He had cuts and wounds all over his body, but he refused to be evacuated.  When a rescue helicopter arrived, Bennie insisted that others go instead.  And so, on the third night, Bennie, wounded and bleeding, found himself with his men up on that jungle hill, exhausted and surrounded, with the enemy closing in.  And after all they had been through, as if it weren’t enough, there was something more -- you can’t make this up -- there in the jungle, they heard the growls of a tiger. 

It turns out that tiger might have been the best thing that happened to Bennie in those -- during those days because, he says, “the North Vietnamese were more scared of that tiger than they were of us.”  (Laughter.)  So the enemy fled.  Bennie and his squad made their escape.  And they were rescued, finally, the next morning. 

In Bennie’s life, we see the enduring service of our men and women in uniform.  He went on to serve a third tour in Vietnam, a total of more than two decades in uniform.  After he retired, he earned his Master’s Degree -– actually not one, but two.  Opened up an accounting firm.  Taught adult education classes.  Became national commander of the Legion of Valor veterans organization.  So he has earned his retirement, despite what he says.  (Laughter.)  He’s living outside Auburn.  And, yes, he is a fan of the Auburn Tigers, although I did a poll of the family and there are some Crimson Tide fans here.  (Laughter.)  So there’s obviously some divisions.

But Bennie will tell you that he owes everything to the men he served with in Vietnam, especially the five who gave their lives in that battle.  Every member of his unit was killed or wounded.  Every single one was recognized for their service.  Today, we’re joined by some of the men who served with Bennie, including Major John Bradford, the soldier that Bennie shielded in that helicopter, and Major Wayne Murray, the soldier Bennie saved from being captured.  And I’d ask them and all our Vietnam veterans who are here today to please stand or raise your hand and to be recognized.  (Applause.)  

And now, I’d ask that the citation be read.

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Bennie G. Adkins, United States Army.

Sergeant First Class Bennie G. Adkins distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Intelligence Sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam, from March 9 to 12, 1966. 

When the camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars.  Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds, and dragged several comrades to safety. 

As the hostile fire subsided, Sergeant First Class Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary.  When Sergeant First Class Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire, all the while successfully covering the rescue.  When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Sergeant First Class Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much-needed supplies. 

During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966, enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon.  When all mortar rounds were expended, Sergeant First Class Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions.  Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Sergeant First Class Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong.  Sergeant First Class Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker.

After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Sergeant First Class Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker and fought their way out of the camp.  While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed.

Sergeant First Class Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.  During the 38-hour battle and 48 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 had killed between 135 and 175 of the enemy while sustaining 18 different wounds to his body.

Sergeant First Class Adkins’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces and the United States Army.

[The medal is presented.]  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Over the decades, our Vietnam veterans didn’t always receive the thanks and respect they deserved.  That’s a fact.  But as we have been reminded again today, our Vietnam vets were patriots and are patriots.  You served with valor.  You made us proud.  And your service is with us for eternity.  So no matter how long it takes, no matter how many years go by, we will continue to express our gratitude for your extraordinary service.

May God watch over Don Sloat and all those who have sacrificed for our country.  May God keep safe those who wear our country’s uniform, and veterans like Bennie Adkins.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

At this point I’d ask our chaplain to return to the stage for the benediction. 

[The benediction is offered.]

THE PRESIDENT:  And at this point, I would welcome everybody to join the Sloat family and the Adkins family for a reception.  I hear the food is pretty good.  (Laughter.)  And once again, to all of you who serve and your families who serve along with them, the nation is grateful.  And your Commander-in-Chief could not be prouder. 

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)