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The Steven L. Bennett Memorial Library
The Youngsville Middle School Library is dedicated to the memory of former student, Steven Bennett, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was a member of the football team, enjoyed swimming, playing golf and chess, and reading about the Civil War as a student in the 1960s. The following account of Air Force Captain Bennett’s last heroic mission during the Vietnam War was published in La LOUISIANE’S 2006 Fall edition.
“In Spring of 1972, North Vietnamese troops overran the South Vietnamese Army’s 3rd Division and captured Quang Tri City. On June 28, South Vietnam counterattacked in an effort to retake Quang Tri, supported by U.S. forces.
On June 29, Bennett, a member of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Da Nang, was piloting a twin-engine OV-10 aircraft. Marine Corps Capt. Michael Brown was seated behind him. They were marking targets for friendly forces. The OV-10 had many excellent characteristics and one major weakness that was well-known to its crews. Because of its structure, it could not be ditched successfully. No pilot had ever survived an OV-10 ditching.
Bennett and Brown were ready to return to Da Nang at dusk that day. As they waited for their replacement, they received an emergency call for help. A South Vietnamese platoon was being overrun by North Vietnamese troops. Bennett’s plane was the only aircraft in the area that was able to respond, but it would be a target for heat-seeking anti-aircraft weapons.
In the December 2004 issue of Air Force Magazine, author John T. Corell states that Bennett’s OV-10 made four strafing passes. The North Vietnamese began to retreat. But Bennett decided to make another pass to give the South Vietnamese a chance to get to safer ground.
‘Bennett swept along the creek for a fifth time and pulled out to the northeast. He was at 2,000 feet, banking to turn left, when the SA-7 hit from behind. Neither Bennett nor Brown saw it. The missile hit the left engine and exploded. The aircraft reeled from the impact. Shrapnel tore holes in the canopy. Much of the left engine was gone. The left landing gear was hanging down like a lame leg, and they were afire.’
Bennett headed for the Tonkin Gulf to jettison reserve fuel before fire could reach it. By now, another OV-10 was escorting his aircraft. Its pilot told him to eject. Bennett and Brown prepared to do that. Then Brown saw that his parachute had been blown away by the rocket blast.
‘Bennett would not eject alone,’ Corell wrote. ‘That would have left Brown in an airplane without a pilot. Besides, the back-seater had to eject first. If not, he would be burned severely by the rocket motors on the pilot’s ejection seat as it went out.' Corell described the situation this way: ’They couldn’t make it to Da Nang. Bennett couldn’t eject without killing Brown. That left only one choice: to crash-land in the sea.’
There was no last-minute miracle. Bennett ditched the OV-10 in the water, and it flipped on its back before beginning to sink. Brown managed to escape from the rear cockpit and swam to the surface. But he was unable to reach Bennett before the aircraft sank. The next day, Bennett’s body was recovered. “
On August 8, 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford presented the Medal of Honor- the nation’s highest military honor- posthumously to Bennett’s widow, Linda and their daughter, Angela. A monument to Captain Bennett stands in front of Lafayette’s Cajundome as a tribute to his gallantry. The bronze plaque that once honored Captain Bennett at Webb Air Force Base, where he received his wings, is now proudly displayed at the entrance to the Steven L. Bennett Memorial Library at Youngsville Middle School.
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