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Capt. Steven L. Bennett

Capt. Steven L. Bennett. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. Steven L. Bennett. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Medal of Honor - Posthumously Awarded

On June 29, 1972, Capt. Steven Bennett piloted his OV-10 on an artillery adjustment mission southeast of Quang Tri City. A forward air controller (FAC) assigned to the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, Bennett had already directed two close air support strikes by Navy fighters on that mission. From the backseat, his partner, Capt. Michael B. Brown-a U.S. Marine Corps airborne artillery observer-directed gunfire from two American destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf. They were about to return to their base at Da Nang when a Marine ground artillery spotter with a platoon of South Vietnamese marines radioed for help because a much larger force of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars was overrunning their position. Bennett called for air support, but no fighters were available. Brown could not call in artillery fire without hitting the South Vietnamese marines.

At great personal risk, Bennett decided to attack the NVA troops with his OV-10's four 7.62 mm machine guns. In addition to large numbers of 23 mm and 37 mm antiaircraft guns used by the enemy, Bennett had to face a new threat-the new, shoulder-launched SA-7 Grail surface to air missile (SAM) carried by the NVA. Very effective against low-flying aircraft, the heat-seeking SA-7 had inflicted serious losses on American fighters. The OV-10's twin engines produced a large amount of heat, and to stay out of the SA-7's range, the OV-10 FACs had to fly above 9,500 feet. The area patrolled by Bennett and Brown had so many SA-7s that American pilots had nicknamed it "SAM-7 Alley."

After four strafing attacks, Bennett had forced the NVA to retreat, and his OV-10 had received only slight damage from ground fire. On his fifth attack, however, Bennett's left engine was hit by an SA-7, which set the engine on fire and damaged the landing gear. Another FAC pilot warned Bennett to eject because the damaged OV-10's wing was about to explode, but Bennett refused. Shrapnel from the SA-7 had destroyed Brown's parachute, and Bennett refused to leave Brown. Therefore, Bennett decided to ditch his aircraft in the nearby Tonkin Gulf. It was well-known by OV-10 pilots that a backseater might survive a crash-landing at sea, but the pilot's chances of surviving were remote.

Choosing to risk his own life to save that of his backseater, Bennett landed the OV-10 in the Tonkin Gulf. Upon hitting the water, the OV-10 flipped over, and the front cockpit broke apart. Brown managed to free himself from the wreckage, but he could not help Bennett. The following day, Capt. Bennett's body was recovered, and he was buried at Lafayette, La.

On Aug. 8, 1974, Vice President Gerald R. Ford presented the Medal of Honor to Bennett's widow and daughter.

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