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A look at Bennie Adkins, a Medal of Honor recipient

While on the way to a photo assignment on Tuesday, I had no idea I was about to meet a real American hero. By chance, a special guest at the ribbon cutting of the Beulah Senior Center was Bennie Adkins. He’s one of only 72 living Medal of Honor recipients.

The Lee County Commission had its regular meeting at the senior center and Adkins was there to offer input on a new meeting center in Opelika that’s going to be named for him. The former Johnson Galleries furniture store in the downtown area is being extensively refurbished into the Bennie Adkins Meeting Center. It’s an exemplary example of giving roses to someone who is still living.

Adkins is still quick witted for his age. “They tell me I’m 84, but I feel like I’m 48,” he said.

Adkins was in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1978. In March 1966, he distinguished himself in combat doing a 38-hour, close-combat battle against North Vietnamese Army forces in the Battle of A Shau. At the time, he was a sergeant first class serving as an intelligence sergeant with a Special Forces unit. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while manning a mortar, leaving his position to drag wounded comrades to safety. He later made his way through sniper fire while carrying more wounded men to safety.

The main enemy attack came the next day, and Adkins stayed at his post, being the last man firing a mortar. When all rounds were expended, he grabbed a recoilless rifle and fired on enemy positions, bringing down numerous insurgents.

During a 38-hour battle and 48 hours of escape and evasion, Adkins constantly fought with mortars, machine guns, rifles, small arms and hand grenades. He sustained 18 different wounds to his body while inflicting an extraordinary number of casualties to the enemy.

He received a Distinguished Service Cross for those actions. Following his military service, Adkins earned three degrees from Troy State University, ran an accounting company and taught at Southern Union and Auburn University.

In 2002, U.S. Army officials reviewed over 6,500 instances when a Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to see if the recipient deserved a higher award. Adkins’ heroism met that criteria, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he received the nation’s highest medal. In August 2014, he received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama. The next month he was inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes.

Adkins has written a book about his experiences. The first printing was sold out and a second publication is on the way. Proceeds from the sale of the book go to scholarships.

Adkins gets lots of requests to speak. “I’ve been before crowds of 100,000 people but what I enjoy the most is to speak to small groups of children.” he said.

He will have quite a legacy in the Bennie Adkins Meeting Center. It will be a great place to take school groups on field trips. There will be a kiosk where visitors can look up information on the Medal of Honor and its recipients.

According to Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence, the design of the building has been approved by Adkins and his family. “The main purpose of Special Forces was to teach,” he said. “We will get that across.”

There will be lots of artifacts on display and a refurbished Tiger Town-type tiger on display in the front of the building.

At the new center, young people can write letters to troops who are serving today.

The Commission gave its unanimous approval to the design. Some fundraising will now take place to help cover the cost.

Adkins said that he’s looking forward to the second printing of his book to arrive. He said that he’s ready to sign more autographs.

It’s good to meet a living legend, shake their hand and tell them you appreciate their service to their country. I never expected to do that on a trip to Beulah, but it was really nice.