TRAVIS E. WATKINS (1920 ~ 1950). Medal of Honor Recipient Travis Watkins was born in Waldo, Arkansas, on September 5, 1920. He was raised in Troup, Texas, and enlisted in the Army in 1939.
Watkins served in the Pacific during World War II and earned a Bronze Star during the Guadalcanal Campaign. After returning to the United States at the end of the war, Watkins married Madie Sue Barnett on April 15, 1948; they had two daughters. He remained in the Army and was deployed to Korea as a Master Sergeant with Company H, Ninth Infantry Regiment, Second Infantry Division.
On August 31, 1950, Watkins and 30 men from his unit were separated from the rest of their regiment by an enemy advance and surrounded near Yongsan, in present day South Korea. Watkins took command of the isolated soldiers and set up perimeter defenses to repel the frequent enemy assaults. He moved through heavy enemy fire to visit each foxhole, where he gave careful instructions and encouragement to the soldiers. When ammunition ran low, Watkins shot two enemy soldiers outside the perimeter and went to retrieve their ammunition alone. Three other enemy soldiers attacked and wounded Watkins once he had left the defensive perimeter. Watkins killed those three, recovered arms and ammunition from the five enemy soldiers, and returned to his position.
Later in the siege, Watkins' position was attacked by six enemy soldiers with grenades. Watkins left the cover of his fox hole to engage the attackers with rifle fire and was shot, but he continued firing until the attackers were killed. He collapsed shortly, paralyzed from the waist down. He refused all food in order to provide more for his men until the end. By September 3, Watkins decided that waiting out the siege was hopeless. He ordered the remaining men to escape to the safety of the American front line and refused to be evacuated himself as he knew his condition would greatly slow the retreat. Watkins was cheerful as he wished his men good luck, and died shortly after they departed.
Watkins' leadership throughout the ordeal helped to keep his men alive while killing roughly 500 enemy soldiers. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was presented to his wife by President Harry Truman in Washington D.C. on January 9, 1951.
In 1961, a housing complex at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was named in his honor. The USNS Watkins, a supply ship named for the Medal of Honor recipient, was christened on July 28, 2000. Watkins is buried in Gladewater Memorial Park in Gladewater, Texas.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas," Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas. The Fort Sam Houston Museum, http://ameddregiment.amedd.army.mil/fshmuse/watkins.htm, April 26, 2006. The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, University of Texas, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/WW/fwatr.html, April 26, 2006. Watkins Family Historical Society, http://www.watkins.net.au/?Famous_Watkins_People:Travis_E._Watkins, April 26, 2006.