BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Decades after the Vietnam War, retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins had a simple way of explaining how he survived mortar attacks and rifle bullets that killed so many people all around him.
“It was not my day,” he’d say.
Then the coronavirus found Adkins and felled its first Medal of Honor recipient on April 17.
Adkins, 86, was an Alabama war hero who returned home to become an accountant, teach night courses to adults trying to better themselves and launch a nonprofit foundation awarding scholarships to veterans.
The resident of the small city of Opelika received the nation’s highest military honor from then-President Barack Obama during a 2014 White House ceremony.
While deeply honored and humbled, Adkins deflected attention from his courageous actions fighting off waves of enemy attackers at a strategic point in South Vietnam.
“What I did is not heroic. What I did was … that was my job. That was what I was trained for. That was what I was paid for as a professional soldier and I was trying to do the job in a professional way,” Adkins said in an oral history project for the Library of Congress after the award ceremony.
Adkins died three weeks after being admitted to the same hospital where one of his five children, Dr. Keith Adkins, works as a surgeon.
The son said his father was married for 60 years and gave back whatever he could around Opelika, an old railroad town of about 31,000 people near Auburn University, helping others not only in wartime but also at home.
“We want his legacy to be not just what he did in the military,” said Keith Adkins, who wasn’t involved in his father’s care. “We want to show that character that he had and what it led him to do when he was out of the military.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories remembering people who have died from coronavirus around the world.