The Medal of Honor is this nation's highest and most prestigious military decoration. It's normally awarded by the President in the name of Congress, and often referred to as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.”
The first medal was authorized and presented in 1863, during the American Civil War. Over the more than 150 years since then, and through all the U.S. wars and operations, only 3,507 people have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
One of them, Steven Logan Bennett, was born in Palestine in 1946.
In 1968, after high school and college, Bennett was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force, and later assigned to the Twentieth Tactical Air Support Squadron at DaNang Air Base in Vietnam.
On June 20, 1972, Captain Bennett, a forward air controller, was piloting an OV-10 Bronco on an artillery adjustment mission along a heavily defended route, where enemy troops were massing for an attack. A Marine gunfire spotter occupied the rear seat of the lightly armed reconnaissance aircraft.
After controlling gunfire from U.S. Naval vessels off shore and directing air strikes against enemy positions for approximately three hours, Capt. Bennett received an urgent call for assistance from a small South Vietnamese unit about to be overrun by the North Vietnamese regulars. Bennett called for tactical air support, but was told it was unavailable; artillery support was denied because friendly troops were too close to the target. Captain Bennett decided to strafe the advancing soldiers.
Because the attacking forces were North Vietnamese regulars equipped with heat-seeking missiles, the risks in making a low-level attack were great. Nevertheless, Captain Bennett zoomed down and opened fire with his four small machine guns. He continued circling in a series of low-level attacks. The enemy troops scattered and began to fall back under the repeated strafing.
On the fifth pass, however, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile, setting the left engine on fire and dislodging the left landing gear, leaving it hanging. The canopies over the two men were shredded by fragments from the explosion.
As the fire in the engine continued to spread, Bennett was urged by the pilot of an escorting OV-10 to eject. Captain Bennett 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.
As he attempted to touch the aircraft down, the Bronco’s dangling left landing gear dug into the water. The aircraft spun to the left and flipped over, nose down, into the sea. His Marine companion managed to escape, but Captain Bennett, trapped in the smashed cockpit, sank with the plane. His body was recovered the next day.
For sacrificing his life, Captain Bennett was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The decoration was presented to his window, Linda, from Vice President Gerald Ford, at the White House in Washington, Aug. 8, 1974.
He is buried at Lafayette Memorial Cemetery in Lafayette, Louisiana.
In honor of Capt. Bennett, the U.S. Navy in 1997 named its newest Ammunition Ship, the Steven Logan Bennett.
Steven Bennett Park, near the Palestine YMCA, also bears his name.