Medals Of Honor Recognize Harrowing Battle And A Dying Act President Obama awarded the medals to two soldiers who served in Vietnam. Bennie Adkins, who suffered 18 body wounds, reflects on "a horrible, horrible type of battle."
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Medals Of Honor Recognize Harrowing Battle And A Dying Act

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Medals Of Honor Recognize Harrowing Battle And A Dying Act

Medals Of Honor Recognize Harrowing Battle And A Dying Act

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, on two soldiers who served in Vietnam - one who survived a harrowing battle and 18 body wounds and another whose dying act saved his fellow soldiers. NPR's Tamara Keith reports from the White House.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was January, 1970, and President Obama says Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat was on patrol with his squad in Vietnam.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The lead soldier tripped a wire, a booby trap. A grenade rolled toward the feet of a 20-year-old machine gunner.

KEITH: That 20-year-old was Sloat. The pin on the grenade had been pulled, and as Obama tells it, Sloat picked up the grenade planning to throw it.

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OBAMA: But there were Americans in front of him and behind him inside the kill zone. So Don held onto 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.

KEITH: Sloat was killed. Everyone else survived. But for years, his family thought he had stepped on a landmine. Sloat's mother, Evelyn, learned the real story late in her life. And Obama says she made it her mission to have his actions recognized.

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OBAMA: 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.

KEITH: Don Sloat's brother, Bill, accepted the award today. Eighty-year-old Army Command Sergeant Bennie Adkins needed a little help getting on the stage to accept his Medal of Honor. He describes the battle that earned him the medal as the toughest he saw in three tours of duty in Vietnam.

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BENNIE ADKINS: It was a horrible, horrible type of a battle.

KEITH: He spoke at a press conference in Fort Benning, Georgia earlier this month. He told reporters that after the battle, as he recuperated on a hospital ship, he reflected on what had happened.

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ADKINS: When they treated me for 18 body wounds, it - someone was looking after me. And at that period of time, it was not myself.

KEITH: It was March, 1966, Adkins' second tour as a Green Beret. Obama says Adkins was at an isolated Special Forces camp when a large, North Vietnamese force attacked.

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OBAMA: 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.

KEITH: And then, as they waited for rescue on a hilltop in the jungle, surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers, a tiger stalked them through the night.

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ADKINS: We were all bloody. And in this jungle, the tigers stalked us. And the North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of the tiger than they were of us. So they backed off some, and we were gone.

KEITH: He figures the tiger must have been on their side. After receiving his award today, Adkins didn't want to talk about himself, instead listing the names of the soldiers who were there with him. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

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