Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Courtesy of Patrick Watkins) Patrick Watkins and wife, Carol Watkins, pose for a wedding photo in 1962 when both were in the Marines. Watkins, a Vietnam vet, will be one of the two grand marshals for Taylorsville's Veterans Day parade. He had three tours of duty, received two Purple Hearts, five Bronze Star medals and is up for a Distinguished Service Cross.
Medal puts Vietnam veteran from Utah in elite company
Decoration » Patrick Watkins to receive the second-highest U.S. Army honor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
First Published May 13 2014 05:01 pm • Last Updated May 14 2014 03:59 pm

The Viet Cong soldier stood in the doorway, ready to throw a satchel full of explosives into the building where Staff Sgt. Patrick Watkins had been sleeping.

Through the darkness, Watkins fired his .45-caliber pistol twice. The bullets struck and soon killed the Vietnamese soldier, but first he rolled a grenade toward Watkins.

Da Nang, Vietnam


View Larger Map

At a glance

Trib Talk on Wednesday — Veterans

Despite the recent controversy, there are signs that health care for veterans is slowly improving. On Wednesday at 12:15 p.m., former Utah Veteran’s Affairs Director Terry Schow and Tribune military reporter Nate Carlisle join Jennifer Napier-Pearce to talk about the progress being made for Utah veterans and what’s left to do. www.sltrib.com

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Watkins yelled, "Grenade," ducked and covered his head. Shrapnel peppered Watkins.

"I tried to get up, and I fell down," the 76-year-old Watkins explained Tuesday. "I knew I had a concussion."

But Watkins would get to his feet, pick up his gun again and organize a rescue for other U.S. soldiers pinned down and buried underneath debris by the Viet Cong who attacked their camp that night near Da Nang, Vietnam. Next week at a ceremony in Florida, Watkins will receive the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest honor for a member of the U.S. Army — behind only the Medal of Honor.

Watkins is believed to be the only Utahn from the Vietnam War to receive the medal. And the honor might solidify Watkins’ place as the state’s most highly decorated living veteran. He already has five Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals and three Air Medals.

He also has two Purple Hearts, one of which he received for his wounds in the attack that night in Da Nang at Forward Operating Base 4.

Watkins was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group and spent much of the war in counterinsurgency operations in Cambodia and Laos. Forward Operating Base 4 was considered a top-secret facility. But it was not well guarded, according to Watkins and written accounts. There was some barbed-wire fencing patrolled by South Vietnamese security — or, as Watkins called them, "rent-a-cops."

The1968 attack began late Aug. 22 or early on Aug. 23. The Viet Cong sent about 250 soldiers from an elite unit called "Sappers" that specialized in attacking bases. Battle accounts suggest the Viet Cong were aided by Vietnamese working with the Americans inside the base.


story continues below
story continues below

"They didn’t come in to control the compound and keep it," Watkins said Wednesday during an interview at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City. "They came in to kill people."

Watkins was asleep in a room with another staff sergeant and two recently arrived second lieutenants when the Sappers attacked. At first, Watkins woke to the sound of incoming mortar fire. He and Staff Sgt. Joseph Conlon covered themselves with their mattresses.

Watkins then heard a neighboring building explode, followed by AK-47 fire. He realized the enemy was inside the camp.

One of the lieutenants went to the window. A bullet struck him. Another building exploded, collapsing some of the ceiling on top of Watkins and his roommates.

Watkins knew their building would be targeted. He ordered Conlon to cover the rear with his rifle. Watkins covered the front, where he encountered the Sapper.

After the grenade went off, Watkins, told the healthy lieutenant to secure the building. Watkins and Conlon went outside. The Sappers had overrun the base. Intense gun battles raged.

The only light, Watkins said, came from muzzle flashes and explosions. About an hour into the battle, a C-47 flew over and dropped flares.

Watkins tried to organize the U.S. soldiers to create a perimeter around their section of the camp and to search for survivors.

"We basically, the rest of the night, went trying to find wounded," Watkins recalled. Fighting the Sappers was secondary.

Many of the soldiers Watkins organized had just arrived in Vietnam. Others were radio operators or had other jobs that — until then — had kept them out of combat, Watkins said.

Decades later, a group of survivors submitted affidavits in support of Watkins’ medal. Conlon told how Watkins saved lives when the headquarters was attacked.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.