Pat Watkins has earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award a soldier can receive, for his actions more than four decades ago.
On Aug. 23, 1968, the now-75-year-old was a young Army staff sergeant asleep in his bunk in a Da Nang, Vietnam compound when multiple explosions shattered the silence. The compound had been attacked — an inside job — and North Vietnamese soldiers were blowing up buildings all around him.
Although wounded in the initial assault, the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier grabbed his Colt .45 and immediately started a counterattack. He shot several intruders, threw his body over a teammate to shield him from a grenade blast and stormed a sniper picking off Americans whose silhouettes were easy targets in the moonless night.
Watkins kept fighting into the next day until the compound was secure again, even hitchhiking back after a medical team tried to evacuate him.
His efforts helped saved a number of soldiers' lives, although the attack was still one of the deadliest in Special Forces history, 18 soldiers killed and more than 30 wounded.
More than 100 of Watkins’ friends and family packed the Special Forces chapel on May 22 to honor him.
His commander applied for the award in 1968, Watkins said.