Bennett, Steven L. (1946–1972)

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Steven L. Bennett, Medal of Honor recipient, was born at Palestine, Texas, on April 22, 1946, son of Elwin Bennett. He received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and was a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was commissioned in the United States Air Force on August 12, 1968, and served on active duty until his death in Vietnam on June 29, 1972. He was assigned to the Twentieth Tactical Air Support Squadron at DaNang Air Base, with primary duty as a forward air controller. On June 29, 1972, he was the pilot of a light aircraft flying an artillery-adjustment mission along a heavily defended area over a large concentration of enemy troops massing to attack friendly forces. He requested tactical air support but was told that none was available. Determined to aid the endangered troops, he strafed the enemy positions four times, and the enemy began a retreat. Bennett continued his attack, and as he completed his fifth pass, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile. The plane was severely damaged in the left engine and the left main landing gear. With the aircraft on fire, he realized that a landing at a friendly airfield was impossible. He instructed his observer to prepare to eject, but was informed that the observer's parachute had been shredded during the attack. Bennett chose to ditch in the nearby Gulf of Tonkin, with the full knowledge that this type of aircraft had never been successfully ditched in water. When the plane struck the water it cartwheeled and was damaged so that escape from the cockpit was impossible. The observer escaped and was rescued, thanks to the selfless action of Captain Bennett. Bennett's wife, Linda, of San Antonio, received the posthumous award from Vice President Gerald Ford at the White House in Washington, on August 8, 1974. Bennett is buried in Lafayette Memorial Cemetery at Lafayette, Louisiana. In addition to his wife, he was survived by one child.

Donald K. Schneider, Air Force Heroes in Vietnam (Washington: GPO, 1979).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Bennett, Steven L.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994