Air Force News

Ammunition ship to bear name of Air Force hero

Released: Nov 13, 1997

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In an unprecedented tribute, the Navy will join the Air Force in naming the newest ammunition ship after Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Steven L. Bennett.

An Air Force pilot who flew in Vietnam, Bennet died while saving his back-seater in an OV-10. He will be memorialized Nov. 20 during the ship-naming ceremony at port facilities in Military Ocean Terminal, Sunny Point, Southport, N.C.

Bennett is the Air Force's most recent Medal of Honor recipient. The container ship Sea Pride will be renamed in his honor. As an ammunition preposition fleet ship, the Steven Logan Bennett will maintain munitions in the Mediterranean Sea where the Air Force can draw on them during a conflict.

Gen. Michael E. Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, called the decision to rename the vessel after a Medal of Honor recipient "a great idea." He said, "It will be a fitting tribute especially given the 50th anniversary of the Air Force during 1997."

Born in 1946 in Palestine, Texas, Bennett served in the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron of Pacific Air Forces during the Vietnam War. He entered the Air Force in 1968, earned his pilot wings at Webb Air Force Base, Texas, then completed B-52 bomber, forward air controller and fighter training before reporting to Vietnam early in 1972.

He had been in combat for just three months and had already won the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters before the mission for which earned him the Medal of Honor.

Bennett was piloting a light aircraft on an artillery adjustment mission along a heavily defended route. A large concentration of enemy troops was massing for an attack on a friendly unit.

He asked for tactical air support but was told it was unavailable. Artillery support was denied because friendly troops were too close to the target. Bennett instead strafed the hostile positions and completed four passes.

On the fifth, however, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile, severely damaging the left engine and left main landing gear. He told his back-seat observer to prepare for ejection, but the observer said his parachute had been shredded by the force of the missile.

Bennett knew if he ejected with his one remaining good parachute, the observer had no chance to survive. He decided to ditch the aircraft in the Gulf of Tonkin, knowing that no OV-10 crewman had ever survived such an attempt.

The impact of the water caused the aircraft to cartwheel and severely damaged the front cockpit, making escape for Bennett impossible. The observer made his way out and was rescued.

The Medal of Honor was presented posthumously by President Gerald R. Ford to Bennett's wife in 1974.