Doug Robinson: An honor long overdue

Published: Monday, June 2 2014 6:20 p.m. MDT

The medal citation reads, in part: “Despite being wounded in the initial assault, Staff Sergeant Watkins quickly organized a small reaction force to repel the attack and rescue wounded Americans while leading them to a defensive position through a gauntlet of machine gun fire and grenades. Staff Sergeant Watkins disregarded his own safety to direct the recovery of the many wounded men and repeatedly engaged and killed enemy sappers. Despite receiving several more wounds from grenade shrapnel, Staff Sergeant Watkins repeatedly repelled numerous sappers as he continued the search for the wounded. He refused medical aid and on one occasion fiercely charged an onrushing NVA sniper, killing him and preventing the sniper’s continuing infliction of numerous friendly casualties. His actions inspired his men to greater heights to defeat the enemy and successfully defend the compound.”

After being released from the hospital, Watkins was told he would receive a medal for his actions. Numerous eyewitness statements were submitted, but nothing happened and Watkins forgot about it. It wasn’t until he attended a special forces reunion in Las Vegas in 2009 that the subject was raised again.

Joe Conlon, one of the eyewitnesses from that climactic battle, asked Watkins why he never received a medal. Conlon began making inquiries and the process was begun. Who knew it would take five years of collecting affidavits from eyewitnesses, an endorsement from a senator, approval by the armed forces committee, the gathering of still more information and an act of Congress before it was finally approved two years ago, only to be delayed by sequestration and a government shutdown.

“To tell you the truth,” Watkins says. “I never thought about it too much till five years ago at reunion. They got mad.”

This time it was others who came to Watkins' aid. The Army had forgotten about his exploits that night 46 years ago, but no one who was there that night ever forgot.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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