CAPT. STEVEN L. BENNETT
20th Tactical Air Support Squadron
Quang Tri, RVN
29 June 1972
Capt. Bennett was flying a light observation aircraft on an artillery adjustment mission.
A large concentration of enemy troops was massing for an attack on a friendly unit so
Capt. Bennett requested tactical air support and artillery support but was advised that
none was available.
Determined to aid the endangered unit Bennet elected to strafe the hostile positions himself. After four strafing runs, the enemy force began to retreat but Capt. Bennet continued to attack and on his 5th pass the OV-10 was struck by a Surface to air missile.
The aircraft was crippled and couldn’t make it back to base.
Bennet gave the bailout order only to have his Observer tell him that his parachute was damaged by the SAM. Bennet knew the Observer had ZERO chance of survival if Bennet ejected and he also knew that no pilot had ever survived an OV-10 ditching, Egress from the Observer position was easier but no Pilot ever got out of an OV-10 ditching alive.
Capt. Bennet refused to leave his Observer to die and attempted a water ditching.
The Observer survived and Capt. Bennet waas unavel to egres the aircraft and gave what Abraham Lincoln called “that last full measure of devotion” to protect his brother.
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.