An Observation Aircraft that took on the North Vietnamese Forces
June 29th, 1972; Capt Steven Bennett was flying his USAF OV-10 Bronco near Quang Tri City, on a low level Forward Air Controller artillery adjustment mission. Capt Bennett was accompanied on this mission, by a Marine gunfire spotter who occupied the rear seat of the lightly armed reconnaissance aircraft.
After approximately three hours of controlling gunfire from U.S. naval vessels off shore, and directing air strikes against enemy positions, Captain Bennett received an urgent call for assistance over the radio. A small South Vietnamese unit was on the verge of being attacked by a much larger force of North Vietnamese. The situation was grave, and there were no friendly fighters left in the area. Supporting naval gunfire would have endangered the South Vietnamese, so that was not an option either. Without immediate help, the unit was certain to be overrun, as they were caught between the enemy, and the coast.
Captain Bennett took it upon himself to stop the advancing troops with his underarmed observation aircraft. Bringing his OV-10 around for a low level strafing run, Capt Bennett proceeded to open fire with his small four 7.62 mm machine guns, momentarily halting the advance, and causing the enemy to scatter.
Bringing his aircraft around once again, and again, each time sending the enemy into retreat, and each time coming under heavy enemy fire.
Capy Bennett made a total of five strafing runs against the North Vietnamese regulars, and each time was successful in causing their retreat, and slowing their advance on the small South Vietnamese unit he was trying to defend.
As the twin tailed Bronco was climbing away from the fifth pass, a plume rose from the enemy position, carrying a heat-seeking SAM 7 missile with it. Capt Bennett’s aircraft was struck in the port engine, which detonated on impact, damaging the wing structure, sending shrapnel piercing through their canopy, and quickly spreading flames over the wing surface, the left gear to dropped and hung uselessly in the slipstream.
Capt Bennett turned his aircraft to the South as fire was engulfing the left wing of his aircraft. As he was preparing to eject, the Marine observer in back advised him that he couldn't eject with him, his chute had been shredded by fragments from the heat seekers detonation.
Choosing to stay with his aircraft, and his observer, Bennett turned towards the Gulf of Tonkin, and began setting up for an emergency ditching off the coast. No pilot had ever survived putting an OV-10 into the sea, and the hanging left gear was not going to help matters, but Bennett was not going to leave his observer behind.
As he put the Bronco down on the water, the gear dug deeply into the ocean, throwing the Bronco into a snap roll, resting nose down into the sea.
The Marine observer managed to escape, but Captain Bennett was unable to free himself in time, and sank with his aircraft.
Captain Steven Bennett was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and sacrifice. The decoration was presented to his widow by Vice President Gerald R. Ford on Aug. 8th, 1974.
I met the Marine FO in the rear seat many years later, he told me the story first hand, awesome decision on Bennett’s part, go Air Force!
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