“The tiger kinda’ helped” in scaring off the enemy in March 1966, Special Forces legend and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins said of the last hours of a four-day battle in Vietnam in which he earned the Medal of Honor.
Adkins sat down with Military.com on Wednesday to talk about his new book, “A Tiger Among Us: A Story of Valor in Vietnam’s A Shau Valley,” and his work with the Bennie G. Adkins Foundation a day after he and 28 other recipients of the nation’s highest award for valor were honored at baseball’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
The rest of the story: The tiger had an assist from the 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun Adkins carried as a sidearm. He had cut down the barrel and sawed off the stock.
The 84-year-old Adkins said he still isn’t quite sure how that weapon squared with the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, but “I did use it, I did, and a lot of hand grenades.”
While on the run in triple-canopy jungle, Adkins figured out another use for the shotgun. He had an HT1 radio, but “the antenna was shot off this one.”
He rigged the shotgun as a makeshift antenna and managed to get a location to the rescue helicopters. “The next day, the weather broke enough so they could come get us,” he said.
At the July 17 All-Star Game, the 29 combat veterans lined up on the infield as actor Bradley Cooper narrated a video on the medal: “You don’t win a Medal of Honor. It is earned by the rarest of heroes, heroes who reveal the remarkable capacity of their character. They connect us through the ideals they proudly represent. Tonight, in our nation’s capital, it is our honor to welcome these true American heroes.”
Fox broadcaster Joe Buck asked the sellout crowd to remain silent as each MoH recipient was introduced on the field by name and rank. Adkins, leaning on his walker, was the first to be introduced. He gave the crowd a salute.
The crowd then erupted in a long-standing ovation as both the National and American League teams swarmed around the recipients to take selfies and exchange autographs.
“They all came by,” Adkins said of the ballplayers. “They were a nice group of young men. You could tell they were quality people.”
Adkins was in town to promote his book, co-written with Katie Lamar Jackson and including a foreword by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
He was speaking that night at the International Spy Museum and had also made a presentation at the National Archives.
The Indochinese, or Indonesian, tiger is an endangered species. Only about 20 are believed to remain in Vietnam, but just about everybody who served in the Army and the Marines in South Vietnam’s northern I Corps in the 1960s had a tiger tale to tell.
Everybody seemed to know a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who had come in contact with them, but few had ever seen one.
Everybody also knew about the A Shau. It was Vietnam’s heart of darkness in the telling, running west from Hue to link up with the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was the place where whole units could disappear. Lots of tigers in the A Shau, guys would say, but you really didn’t want to go there to find out.
Adkins said it was so: “It was not uncommon in the A Shau, the tigers.”
He came to the A Shau by way of Waurika, Oklahoma. He was drafted into the Army in 1956, and saw it as a way out.
There wasn’t much work back in Waurika, Adkins said.
“Maybe day work on the farm or fry cooking or something like that is what it amounted to,” he added.
The Army “made a clerk typist out me” and sent him to Germany. In 20 months, he was a sergeant, but he was bored. He asked for the infantry, was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, for training and later was accepted into the Special Forces.
His first tour in Vietnam was in 1963.
“We went in country in civilian clothes” on what turned out to be a six-month tour. He didn’t say much about what they did there, “but at the time we were supposed to have gone in there just as advisers.”
“We left the country in uniform,” he said.
On his second tour, which began in 1965, he said the sergeant major made Adkins his intelligence sergeant. But he had been in Danang only a short time when the sergeant major came to him again.
“We just had a man in the A Shau hit, and we have to send you out there,” the sergeant major said.
“So I didn’t get to do any of that rear echelon stuff,” Adkins said.
Camp A Shau turned out to be “a horrible camp, horrible location. It was the wrong place, period,” situated on low ground that flooded constantly between mountainous terrain on either side, he said. “The camp absolutely fell apart; we just couldn’t keep the thing together.”
He was with two officers and 10 enlisted troops from the Fifth Special Forces Group. 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.
The CIDG was “initially designed to go in and train these local villagers to take care of their own village, but there was no village much to be involved in [at] the A Shau camp,” he said. “We found that, once the battle started, we had one company of these irregulars just change sides and fought with the North Vietnamese.”
The Americans at Camp A Shau knew an attack was coming.
“We had a couple of prisoners, and the prisoners in the interrogations indicated that we were going to be attacked,” he said. “Then we had two walk in and give themselves up and also indicated the attack was going to happen a couple of days later, as soon as major weather hit and we couldn’t get air support in.”
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. After 38 hours, the order to evacuate was given.
Several Marine helicopters were shot down in the rescue attempt, he said.
Marine helos eventually landed outside the camp. Adkins said he and the executive officer went back to the camp to pick up one of the wounded. “When we came back out, we didn’t have a ride, so we had to hit the jungle.”
“This was the night the North Vietnamese had us surrounded. We were in triple canopy,” he said. “We started hearing a noise and then we could see the eyes — about a 400-pound Indonesian tiger was stalking us that night,” but the enemy was 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.
Adkins’ medal citation states: “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.
“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 citation concludes.
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, President Barack Obama approved the upgrade of Adkins’ DSC to the Medal of Honor.
At the White House ceremony in 2014, Obama said, “I have to be honest. 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.”
Obama said Adkins told him that the enemy “was more scared of that tiger than they were of us.”
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.
Now he heads the Bennie G. Adkins Foundation, which raises funds for scholarships for enlisted Special Forces troops transitioning to civilian life.
He stressed that the proceeds from the book and the fund-raising for the foundation “is not for me. The funding is for doing scholarships. Looks like this year we’ll probably do 25 scholarships.”
Adkins doesn’t talk much about his third and last tour in Vietnam in 1971, which was with the clandestine “Studies and Observation Group (SOG),” a mix of Special Forces, SEALs, other commando units and CIA operatives that ran missions behind enemy lines and in Laos and Cambodia.
When asked if he had ever returned to Vietnam, Adkins laughed and said he hadn’t.
“I don’t know if there’s anything to it or not, but I heard they [the North Vietnamese] had a poster — so much for me dead or alive — and that warrant may still be good. So, no, I haven’t been back.”
The article was written by Richard Sisk and first published at Military.com
Robert J. Reeves
Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves died on August 6, 2011 in helicopter crash. He served during Operation Enduring Freedom. He became a SEAL in December, 1999 and December of 1999 and immediately serve with SEAL Team 3. Later, the path led him to the SEAL Team 6. His death was later become publicly known as part of “Extortion 17”.
“Extortion 17” is a name etched in our minds as one of the worst losses our military has ever experienced. Thirty Americans perished in the blink of an eye, half of which comprised an entire ‘troop’ from SEAL Team 6’s Gold Squadron. Senior Chief Robert James Reeves was one of those Americans.
He would go on to cheat death on numerous occasions, both in combat and in peacetime. One of those occasions took place while on a six-month training deployment to the island of Guam in 2003. Rob and a few other SEALs were out celebrating Christmas at a local bar when they got into an altercation with two men. After leaving, the two men followed the SEALs and opened fire at their taxi from their own vehicle. Rob was struck in the back of the neck and a second SEAL was shot in the head. He would go on to make a full recovery.
A couple of months after being shot, Rob would go to Virginia to attend selection and training (S&T) for entrance into the famed counter-terrorism unit, SEAL Team 6/DEVGRU. He successfully completed the selection process in late 2004 and was subsequently assigned to Gold Squadron where he would serve honorably for the next seven years as an assaulter and later, sniper.
Died with childhood friend in helo crash
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves and Lt. Cmdr. Jonas Kelsall had been childhood friends in Shreveport, La., where they played soccer together and graduated from Caddo Magnet High School, Kelsall’s father, John, told The Times of Shreveport and KLSA-TV.
Both joined the military after graduation, though the 32-year-old Reeves spent a year at Louisiana State University first, his father, Jim Reeves, told The Times.
In his 13 years of service, eleven of which were spent as an active-duty SEAL, Rob would deploy over a dozen times, earn the rank of E-8, and earn countless achievement medal.
His decorations include include four Bronze Star Medals with ‘V’ device for valor, Joint Service Commendation Medal with ‘V’ device for valor, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with ‘V’ device for valor, Combat Action Ribbon, two Presidential Unit Citations, three Navy Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Navy Expert Rifleman Medal and Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal.
Green Beret Medic received Medal of Honor
An Army Special Forces soldier will receive the Medal of Honor for fighting through an enemy ambush and saving his teammates’ lives 10 years ago in Afghanistan, the White House announced in late September.
Former Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II, who had already received a Silver Star for his actions, was honored with the nation’s highest award for valor by President Donald Trump during an Oct. 1 ceremony at the White House. Shurer served as a Special Forces medic with 3rd Special Forces Group.
Ronald J. Shurer II was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Dec. 7, 1978. The son of airmen, Shurer lived in Illinois and Idaho before his family was stationed at McChord Air Force Base, Washington. Shurer attended Rogers High School in Puyallup, Washington, where he was a member of the swim team and participated in triathlons and cycling.
Following his high school graduation in 1997, Shurer attended Washington State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics. Later that year, he enrolled in a master’s degree program at Washington State.
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Shurer was inspired to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, grandfather and parents by serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Shurer entered the U.S. Army in 2002 and was assigned to the 601st Area Support Medical Company, 261st Area Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In January 2004, he entered Special Forces selection and reported to the Special Forces Qualification Course in June. After donning his green beret, Shurer was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group in June 2006. Shurer deployed to Afghanistan from August 2006 to March 2007, and again from October 2007 to May 2008.
On April 6, 2008, Shurer and his team were assigned to take out high-value targets of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin in Shok Valley, according to the Army.
In a moment of the above-mentioned action, he was a Senior Medical Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force-33, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Then-Staff Sergeant Shurer and his team were engaged by enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The lead portion of the assault element sustained several casualties and became pinned down on the mountainside. Then-Staff Sergeant Shurer braved enemy fire to treat an injured Soldier. After stabilizing the Soldier, he fought his way across a barrage of bullets and up the mountain to the lead element.
Once there, he treated and stabilized four more Soldiers. After treating the wounded, then-Staff Sergeant Shurer began evacuating them, carrying and lowering the casualties down the mountainside, using his body to shield them from enemy fire and debris. After he loaded the wounded in the evacuation helicopter, he retook control of his commando squad and rejoined the fight. Then-Staff Sergeant Shurer’s heroic actions saved the lives of his teammates.
Today, he lives in Burke, Virginia, with his wife and two sons. After Army career, he went on to serve with the Secret Service, working as a special agent assigned to the Phoenix Field Office before being selected for the agency’s Counter Assault Team and assigned to its Special Operations Division.