Friday, June 29, 2012

TFH 6/29: Captain Steven L. Bennett, USAF

Steven Logan Bennett was born on April 22, 1946 in Palestine, Texas. He was a private pilot before he entered the United States Air Force in August, 1968 and earned his military wings in 1969. In 1970, he was trained as a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress pilot before transitioning to forward air controller (FAC) duties in 1971.

Forward air controllers coordinate attack aircraft from either the ground or the air in support of forces fighting on the ground. When airborne, they often put themselves at severe risk of antiaircraft fires to guide bombers into their targets.

On June 29, 1972, - exactly forty years ago today - Bennett was flying a North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco in the skies over Vietnam on a FAC mission. He was just over two months into his tour. The aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile. The missile strike left Bennett's back-seat observer with a shredded and inoperable parachute. He made a momentous decision to ditch the aircraft into the sea, knowing that as the pilot, he'd be unlikely to survive. For both his courage in the air and for his selfless decision to save his comrade, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (A-L):


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force. 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, Pacific Air Forces. Place and date: Quang Tri, Republic of Vietnam, 29 June 1972. Entered service at: Lafayette, La. Born: 22 April 1946, Palestine, Tex. Citation: Capt. Bennett was the pilot of a light aircraft flying an artillery adjustment mission along a heavily defended segment of route structure. A large concentration of enemy troops was massing for an attack on a friendly unit. Capt. Bennett requested tactical air support but was advised that none was available. He also requested artillery support but this too was denied due to the close proximity of friendly troops to the target. Capt. Bennett was determined to aid the endangered unit and elected to strafe the hostile positions. After 4 such passes, the enemy force began to retreat. Capt. Bennett continued the attack, but, as he completed his fifth strafing pass, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile, which severely damaged the left engine and the left main landing gear. As fire spread in the left engine, Capt. Bennett realized that recovery at a friendly airfield was impossible. He instructed his observer to prepare for an ejection, but was informed by the observer that his parachute had been shredded by the force of the impacting missile. Although Capt. Bennett had a good parachute, he knew that if he ejected, the observer would have no chance of survival. With complete disregard for his own life, Capt. Bennett elected to ditch the aircraft into the Gulf of Tonkin, even though he realized that a pilot of this type aircraft had never survived a ditching. The ensuing impact upon the water caused the aircraft to cartwheel and severely damaged the front cockpit, making escape for Capt. Bennett impossible. The observer successfully made his way out of the aircraft and was rescued. Capt. Bennett's unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Captain Bennett appears on Panel 01W, Line 51 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. His remains were recovered from the sea and he now rests in peace at Lafayette Memorial Park in Lafayette, Louisiana.

The Military Sealift Command's logistics prepositioning ship MV CAPT Steven L. Bennett (T-AK-4296) is normally stationed at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The ship's role is to provide climate-controlled staged transport for Air Force munitions in the United States Central Command area.


  1. Angela Bennett-Engele5:38 AM

    Mr. Bourdius:

    Every so often, I search my father's name to see if there has been anything new written about him. In this most recent search, I found this article! I wanted to stop in to thank you for honoring my father and all the other American heroes on your blog. Very nicely done! I hope you obtain a wonderful following!! Thank you, again, for such a nice piece, my dad would have been honored!
    Angela Bennett-Engele

  2. I'm so happy you found your way here! Thanks so much for your kind words, and I'm ever honored to receive messages from the families of the heroes I've told the stories of.

    Sadly, it's hard to find information at times about the families many of these men left behind, and really, even when I do find some publicly accessible details, I don't share them because I'm more interested in families' privacy.

    I don't know how old you were when you lost your father, but even now 40 years on (I myself was 13 months old on 6/29/1972), please accept my sympathies and admiration.

    I hope you keep reading, too. Thanks again!



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