Two Vietnam War soldiers — one living and one killed in action — received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony Monday for actions taken nearly 50 years ago.
“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 Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, who fought through a ferocious battle and found himself on that jungle hill,” President Obama said during the ceremony. “Nearly half a century after their acts of valor, a grateful nation bestows upon these men the highest military decoration – the Medal of Honor.”
Adkins received the commendation for actions taken during combat operations at Camp A Shau March 9 through March 12, 1966. In the battle, Adkins ran through enemy fire to rescue fellow soldiers, getting injured in the process.
Adkins joined the Army in 1956, at the age of 22, and retired in 1978. During his career, he deployed to Vietnam three times. He traveled from Opelika, Alabama, with his wife of 58 years to attend the ceremony.
Sloat received the award posthumously, earning it for actions taken while serving as a machine gunner during combat operations at Hawk Hill Fire Base on Jan. 17, 1970, where he was killed in action at age 20.
While on patrol, a soldier in his squad triggered a booby trap rigged with a hand grenade. Sloat picked up the live grenade with the intentions of throwing it, but when he realized detonation was imminent, he chose to shield its blast with his own body. He saved three fellow soldiers in the process.
Sloat joined the Army on March 19, 1969 from Coweta, Oklahoma. His brother, Dr. William Sloat, of Enid, Oklahoma, accepted the medal on his behalf.