Monday, September 5, 2016

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." *





Progress Report.  School has officially started and we'll be beginning our third week on Tuesday. The kids are doing just fine.  The teachers?  Eh! About par for the course. Saturday was the first day off I've had since July 31st.  The wife had to work, so I had a double turn day.  First mission was scheduled for a 1000 launch, followed by a quick lunch and mission brief and then a 1400 launch.  Both missions were highly successful in that the Pilot (your's truly) was able to achieve REM sleep in both.

Conducted a thorough debrief of those two missions.

 "Anything to report?" 

"Well, it is important to arrive on target before the support aircraft. Canine, flight of four D-06s, didn't leave much room for maneuvering in the target area."

"Carry on!"

Refreshed and reinvigorated, I turned my attention to my weekly conundrum (i.e. a puzzling problem, get your minds out of the gutter!).  What am I going to write about this week?  

Sarge has pretty well got the political spectrum scoped out, not much to add there.  (Frankly, I can't take enough BP meds to want to risk going there either.)  Haven't been to any museums since the Fourth of July, and we're fresh out of parades.

Horrors!  I might actually have to produce some Content!  

So....

 As frequent readers may know, I had the opportunity several months ago to visit Lackland AFB and ogle the static display airplanes that surround the parade field.  That was a lot of fun, it's always nice to see airplanes.  However, at the south end of the parade field is this monument.




It lists the 60 men who have been awarded the Medal of Honor while serving in the Air Force or its antecedents.  I thought that was a very appropriate monument to put on the parade field where the Air Force's newest members march their graduation parade to remind them, as Shaun at Prairie Adventure likes to say, "We stand on the shoulders of Giants." 

So, I stayed there a bit and read through the names.  

Luke? yep!  

Bong? yep! 

Rickenbacker? yep! 

Jerstad? Who?

I realized there were quite a few names there I didn't recognize at all, and vowed to rectify that.

So, in pursuit of that mission, let me introduce Captain Steven L. Bennett.  Capt. Bennett was an OV-10 Pilot in Vietnam and, as such, is the only OV-10 pilot to receive the Medal of Honor. 
Source


Initial research on Capt Bennett did not yield a lot of info other than his Citation. However, digging a little harder, I came upon some very interesting tidbits.  Born in Palestine TX, he graduated from what is now University of Louisiana.  Upon graduation, he reported to Webb AFB in 1969.  

Given that time frame, it is entirely probable that I've run into him.  Dad was an IP there from '67 til '72.  Summers were spent at the O'Club pool and I worked as a busboy in the O'Club dining room starting in '69 (I was a freshman in HS that year, I remember). At Webb at the time, both were significant draws for the student pilots, so it's a distinct possibility and an interesting coincidence.

Capt Bennett received a BUFF out of Pilot Training and flew them while deployed to Thailand.  Completing that tour, and probably volunteering in order to get out of BUFFs, he transitioned to the OV-10 where he was assigned to the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Da Nang.  His FAC call sign was Covey 87.
Source

On June 29th, 1972, Capt Bennett was flying his OV-10 in support of ground forces near the DMZ.  He was controlling Naval Gunfire and so had a Marine, Capt Mike Brown, in his back seat.  During the mission, he received a radio call from a ground unit under attack.  He flew over to their position, while trying to coordinate some Air Support.  

He was told there was none available.  Capt Brown was also unable to coordinate any Naval Gunfire support.  As the Bronco arrived over head, he was met by another OV-10 who also had been diverted.  The second OV-10 was Nail 70.  Neither Bronco had any ordnance other than 30 caliber machine guns.  They elected to strafe.
Source

Capt Bennett's first 4 passes were beginning to have an effect, as the bad guy attack was breaking up.  Then, on the 5th pass, his Bronco was hit by an SA-7 Grail.  
HISSSS!


Against a fast mover, moving fast, the SA-7 is not much of a threat.  That is not so to an OV-10. 


The missile hits in the left engine and explodes.  The engine is on fire and the left main gear is hanging. 

The aircraft cannot be landed.

Capt Bennett decides to head out over the Gulf of Tonkin and eject.  Capt Brown informs him that the missile blast has destroyed his parachute.

Capt Bennett realizes if he ejects, Capt Brown has no chance of survival.

He decides to ditch the aircraft in the water.

He made this decision knowing that there had never been a ditching of an OV-10 in which the front seater survived.

The two OV-10's are joined by a third and as Nail 70 is coordinating rescue operations, Capt Bennett ditches the airplane.

Feeling frustrated at this point that there were no further details, I googled "Covey 87" and found this post.  According to it, upon impact, the front cockpit broke off and Capt Brown only had to unstrap and step out into the water.  The Aircraft sank fairly rapidly and he was unable to get down deep enough to where the nose might have been to try and rescue Capt Bennett.

The post, written by Nail 70,  provides a lot of interesting details of Capt Bennett's final mission and is worth reading itself.  

Another little bon mot.  The USAF had a class of Logistic Prepositioning Ships, container ships full of ordnance and spare parts etc, that would be positioned throughout the world in an attempt to minimize the time required to resupply deployed forces in a contingency.  
The lead ship in that class was the MV Captain Steven L Bennett.  I went aboard her while stationed at Camp Smith HI.


Source


I also found the YouTube video below.  The video has nothing to do with the mission per se, but LSU decided to name part of their athletic facility after Capt Bennett. That's cool.  

However, the first comment under the video brought the dust level in the room up significantly. It served to remind me those names on the hunk of granite on the parade field are not just names. These were real people, whose actions and decisions had an impact on other, real, people.  

It also reminded me that life can present you with situations where your options are bad,  and bad.  Do you make the choice that benefits you, at cost to others, or the one that benefits others, at cost to you?  That decision defines honor and character, both personal and national.

RIP Warrior!


Capt Bennett's 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."


* John 15:13 NASB




22 comments:

  1. FACs clank when they walk.

    Great post Juvat.

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  2. Thanks for the post, juvat.

    Paul L. Quandt

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  3. Love the history lessons I can acquire here. They really make stuff come alive, no matter which of you is doing the writing.

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    1. Thanks, Sully. Liked your piece on the Three Stooges was entertaining. Even after watching them all these years, I still get a chuckle.

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  4. Something's wrong with my monitor. It got a little blurry after reading Capt. Bennett's citation...
    Thanks for the post.

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  5. Nice post and video of Capt. Bennett. More OV-10 and FAC info here. http://www.ov-10bronco.net/. The OV-10s in the post are from the U.S.Navy Light Attack Squadron FOUR (VAL-4) Black Ponies. The first, UM-15, was taken at Vung Tau VN circa November 1969 the second (same time frame) firing a 5" Zuni rocket over the Delta. http://www.blackpony.org/

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    1. Thanks for the info. Got a lot of connections to 20 TASS. Possible stories to follow.

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    2. I just happened upon your story of Capt. Bennett. What an unselfish act. Having served in VAL4 as an ordnanceman, I can't imagine having to try and land an OV-10 in the water. I'm not an aeronautical engineer, but it doesn't appear it would bode well for the crew. Thank you for a wonderful story of a true hero.

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    3. Thanks for stopping by. We called ordies BB Stackers in the Air Force. Guess the Navy is the same.

      Well, other than your air bases tend to float...

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  6. Dusty as hell! Great post Juvat and many thanks.

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  7. juvat/

    FWIW I was an in-country FAC for the 20th TASS (call-sign Lopez and Jake, variously) flying both O-1s & O-2s when I extended after my F-4 tour. (OV-10s had yet to make their appearance) Took a lot of pull for a 1st Lt to get that assignment, but it helped that the guy I replaced in Quang Ngai City was a firsty too and also the fact that the 20th TASS CO had flown with my cousin (then an O-7) in WWII, lol.

    I note you talk of Bennett being a graduate of "what is now the University of Louisiana." That would be the school where I got my MA, the old Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana "Ragin Cajuns" in Lafayette, yet you also state that LSU named a part of its athletic complex after him. Does not compute. Don't you really mean the successor name to USL, the Univ of Louisiana-Lafayette?

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    1. I watched the video, Ragin' Cajuns named a part of their athletic complex after Captain Bennett.

      Or did I miss something? (Always a possibility.)

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    2. Yeah, my interpretation was he went to Lafayette. (Best Mardi Gras in my opinion). LSU was looking for inspirational Louisiana people to "fire up" the LSU team. Capt Bennett sure fills that bill. Wouldn't have included the vid, if it hadn't been for Capt Brown's daughters comment. "My dad's alive because this man gave his life to save him"
      What better obituary is there than that?

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  8. PS: There is an interesting story to that name change. During the height of the oil boom in the 80s and when a Cajun was a powerful Governor (Edwin Edwards) the fools in SW Louisiana thought they could one day challenge LSU for supremacy--funding, athletics--you name it. The first step was to change the name to The Univ of Louisiana to become the supposed equivalent of the Univ of Michigan and upstage LSU in the minds of the nation. But LSUs backers at the State Board turned the tables and got TWO schools designated The Univ of Louisiana. One in Monroe, la., that used to be known as the Northeastern Univ Indians and of course USL. Now one is "The Univ of Louisiana-Monroe" while the other is "The Univ of Louisiana-Lafayette." So there went USLs power-play and claim to an exclusive name with the equal heft of LSU. Non USL people jokingly derisively call them the "U la las"

    I just wish to hell that they'd stuck with the old name that's on my diploma. rant/off

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