Army Spc. Henry Dale Adkins’ knack for surprising his family during leave from the Army left his mother looking for him long after his helicopter crashed in Vietnam.
He was 19 when he enlisted and would often show up unannounced at his family’s Lorain doorstep whenever he had the chance.
“I still remember coming down the street one day and seeing him,” 53-year-old brother Donald Adkins said. “No one knew he was coming home. He liked to surprise us.”
As one of the oldest of Fern and Henry Lee Adkins’ seven children, Henry Dale Adkins was like most Lorain teenagers growing up in the ’60s. He graduated from Admiral King High School before taking a job at the Lorain Ford Assembly Plant. He enjoyed toying around with his 1971 Dodge Dart, and decided to enlist after finding out he’d eventually be drafted.
“He kept to himself to keep our mom from worrying too much,” Donald Adkins said. “He was laid back, but he cared about what was going on.”
Henry Dale Adkins followed a long line of Adkins men to enter the service. He fought alongside his uncle, Thomas Adkins, who served two terms as a tank commander in Vietnam before retiring from the Army.
He’d racked up nearly 500 flight hours when the Army helicopter he was in took four hits from a ground-based automatic weapon during a recon mission over Kien Giang, South Vietnam, on May 23, 1971.
The 20-year-old soldier was one of two onboard that was killed when the helicopter crashed. His uncle personally escorted the body home.
“I was at work and some colonel or major came to the house and told my parents,” Donald Adkins said. “At the time everybody was torn up about being over there to begin with. My mom was never right after that.”
Fern Adkins remained in denial of her son’s death even after seeing his flag-draped coffin and hearing the 21-gun salute. It was her wish that he be buried where he was born in Wayne, W.Va., but she continued to wait for him to appear on the family’s doorstep and would lose countless hours of sleep doing so, Donald Adkins said.
The siblings, who all remain scattered throughout Lorain County, divvied up the lot of his medals that included two Purple Hearts and the Vietnam Silver Star, among many others. Donald Adkins said they’re all looking forward to coming together in Amherst for the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in June.
“He was the kind of brother that if he was going somewhere, he’d take all of the brothers with him,” he said. “We all loved him.”
Contact Stephen Szucs at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.