SALT LAKE CITY -- There isn’t much room left for pictures on the Watkins living room wall in Salt Lake City, a space that can barely fit the life Patrick Watkins has lived.
“It's my life, what I did in those 24 years,” Watkins said. “I've got five bronze stars. I've been wounded a couple times.”
The 76-year-old began his military career when he was still in high school.
“I started out in 1956 in the Marine Corps Reserves,” Watkins said. “As soon as I got out of high school, I went in the Marine Corps.”
It’s where he met his wife, Carol, a corporal who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, alongside Watkins.
"He was born to be a soldier. I truly believe that,” Carol Watkins said. “And I think that he would absolutely do it all over again."
After seven years in the Marine Corps, Watkins decided he wanted to continue serving in a different capacity.
“I started Special Forces training in 1965,” Watkins said. “You did what you did not for the money, but you did what you did because you wanted to do it. You wanted to be there. You wanted to be with the best."
In 1968, Watkins was partaking in a highly classified mission, as part of the clandestine unit, MACVSOG.
“I had orders to go to Vietnam to a classified, top secret unit called, Observation and Study Group,” Watkins said. “We had the highest casualty rate in Vietnam of any unit. At one time, a unit I was in, we were 100 percent on stand down because we lost so many people we couldn't replace them in time.”
It was an August of that year, though, Watkins witnessed the greatest loss of life in one event.
While serving in Da Nang, Watkins’ operating base came under attack by North Vietnamese Sappers, who had overrun their compound.
“They were running into the buildings and just blowing themselves up with their satchel charges,” Watkins said. "Fire fights going all over the place, buildings blowing up, taking mortar fire from the mountain.”
Despite being wounded, Watkins continued to rush around the camp, assisting other injured soldiers and fighting.
“We continued on, and all night we did this,” he said. “And there were other people throughout the camp defending the camp.”
According to Watkins, 18 Special Forces men were killed.
“It was the greatest loss of life in the history of Special Forces. We killed over 75 MVA in the camp,” Watkins said.
Watkins’ bravery prompted others to submit his name for a medal, but he never received it. Due to the secrecy of their work, the MACVSOG unit was not even publicly acknowledged until the mid 1990s.
“These men were doing their job and not getting any recognition for it at the time,” Carol Watkins said.
That is, until now.
On May 22, Watkins was awarded the military’s second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions in 1968.
“There's plenty of people who've died and been wounded and never received anything,” Watkins said. “I'm just humbled to be receiving this award, and it really reflects more on the people I served with than it does me.”
The award will join several others already hanging in the Watkins living room, outlining a decorated life of service and sacrifice.
“They were serving their country and doing what was expected of them,” Carol Watkins said. “And that's exactly what the public should know. And what they did, they did for us.”