Sunday, March 25, 2012

TFH 3/25: Staff Sergeant Gernot Bender, USA

When people think of the Vietnam War, airmobile warfare using helicopters and the intensity of jungle infantry combat are perhaps the most common images we consider and associate with the conflict. Many do not know of the significant contributions of the United States Army's armored and mechanized units to the war effort.

One of the armored units was the 3rd Squadron/4th Cavalry Regiment - "Makenzie's Raiders" which served as part of the 25th Infantry Division.

Staff Sergeant Gernot Bender, the platoon sergeant of 3/4 Troop A's 2nd Platoon, commanded track "A25" - an M48A3 Patton tank. As his unit responded to rescue an ambushed convoy, he repeatedly came to the aid of his fellow soldiers with great courage. He ignored multiple wounds that ultimately claimed his life, and the Army recognized him with the second-highest award for valor: the Distinguished Service Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Staff Sergeant Gernot Bender (ASN: RA-51414267), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Troop A, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division. Staff Sergeant Bender distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 25 March 1969 in Hau Nghai Province on a mission to engage an enemy force which had ambushed the Dau Tieng convoy. Reaching the ambush site, his troop found the aggressors had moved to a new hiding place, and the squadron and troop commander had advanced alone to reconnoiter. When firing was heard, Sergeant Bender immediately drove his tank to the aid of the two officers. Seeing that they were pinned down by a machine gun bunker, he silenced the emplacement with his main gun and then spearheaded an assault as the rest of his unit followed. Intense hostile fire wounded several men and a rocket-propelled grenade scored a direct hit on an armored personnel carrier. Sergeant Bender moved to secure the carrier and provide covering fire while the casualties were rescued, throwing grenades and firing his rifle after his vehicle's weapons became inoperative. He then pulled back to a defensive position where he placed suppressive fire during the evacuation of the wounded, re-supplied his element with ammunition, and repaired his weapons which had malfunctioned. As his troop again moved forward, he assaulted a machine gun bunker, destroying it and killing its occupants, and then engaged and destroyed a rocket-propelled grenade team that exposed itself to fire on one of the carriers. Second later his vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, seriously wounding him in the leg. Ignoring his wounds, he continued to fight, thus allowing the lesser wounded to be evacuated to safety. Soon Sergeant Bender collapsed as his own injuries proved fatal. Staff Sergeant Bender's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

SSG Bender's burial location is not known. He is memorialized on Panel 28W, Line 32 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. His surviving comrades from A/3/4 Cavalry have created a great website, from which I drew a lot of the information for this post. They are planning a unit reunion in May 2012, and I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank all these great American veterans for their courage and service to their country.

Today, 3/4 Cavalry serves with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, "Broncos", of the 25th Infantry Division. Their home base is Schofield Barracks, HI.

Author's note: another mechanized soldier, 1LT Stephen H. Doane, received the Medal of Honor for his actions in a different action of the same general battle on March 25, 1969. He will be the subject of a future post here at Their Finest Hour.

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