Capt Robert D. Bennett, KIA in a B-26 in Vietnam, 5 November 1962

 

In early October 2002 I received a call from Sharon Bennett, the daughter of Capt Robert D. Bennett, KIA at Det 2A in Vietnam on 5 November 1962 in a B-26 along with his navigator 1st Lt William B.Tulley.   Capt Bennett was born 7 October 1931 and was a member of the 6th Fighter Squadron, Hurlburt Field, FL TDY to Det 2A Vietnam. Sharon was shy of being  2 years old when her father died. She has been trying since 1997 to get information on her father without much luck.  She discovered the ACA Home Page since her other efforts didn’t produce any results.  I first received an email from her, which was followed by a telephone call.  I emailed many of you Det 2A veterans requesting help and many responded to help Sharon-thanks for your help.  Sharon sent me a number of things to add to an article for her father and to add to the ACA Home Page.  Sharon Bennett, Roy Dalton, Roberts Downs, Joe Holden, Bob Gleason and other have contributed to this article helping Sharon discover her father.

 

Her family (Bob’s mother) received the following Western Union message on Capt Bennett-I included this since I wanted everyone to see the language they used in our classified operation:

 

Eglin AF Aux Fld 9 Florida FWA 039 10:15 AM 11/5/62

Mrs Emma Schoonover, 1611 Marilyn Lane:

“It is with deep regret that I officially inform you of the death of your son, Captain Robert D. Bennett.  He died as the result of an aircraft accident twenty miles South West of Ca Mau, South Vietnam 5 November 1962.  A letter containing further details will be forwarded to you at the earliest date possible.  Please accept my sincere sympathy in your bereavement.”

Commander Eglin AF Aux Fld 9 Eglin AFB, Florida

 

Col Chester Jack wrote the following letter to Capt Bennett’s mother on 7 November 1962 as Commander of the 1st Air Commando Group, USAF Special Air Warfare Center (TAC):

 

“Dear Mrs. Emma Schoonover (1611 Marilyn Lane, Cincinnati31, OH)

  1. It is extremely difficult to convey the feeling of loss that prevails in this organization over the death of your son, Capt Robert D. Bennett.  However deep that feeling may be, we all realize that it is exceeded at home and, with this thought, I would like to convey the most sincere condolences of all the men in this Group.
  2. During your son’s assignment with us, he was regarded as an extremely conscientious and proficient worker.  He performed his duties commendably, displaying professionalism, which was regarded as one of his greatest assets.  He was courteous and friendly toward everyone, and possessed the high standards and loyalty expressed by the Air Force of its members.
  3. At approximately 0025 hours on 5 November 1962, Capt Bennett was the pilot of a B-26 supporting a Vietnamese outpost, which was under attack by Viet Cong Communists, 20 miles southwest of Ca Mau, South Vietnam.  On his first run over the target area, the aircraft was apparently stuck by hostile small arms ground fire and crashed into a rice paddy, killing your son, a USAF navigator and a Vietnamese Navigator, upon impact.
  4. Capt Bennett experienced death that was practically instantaneous and, in this respect, we feel that the pain of his loss can be somewhat alleviated by the knowledge that death was sudden and without suffering.
  5. Please feel free to communicate with me or anyone in the group at any time.

Sincerely

Chester A. Jack, Colonel USAF, Commander

 

The citation for the DFC reads as follows for Capt Bennett:

 

“Capt Robert D. Bennett distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism while participating in aerial flight on 5 November 1962 in Southeast Asia.  On that date, while assigned as a pilot of a B-26 aircraft during an operational mission devoted to the training of an aircrew of a friendly power, and under extremely hazardous conditions, Capt Bennett’s gallantry gave his life when his aircraft crashed and burned.  The exceptional heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Captain Bennett uphold the highest tradition of his country and reflect the greatest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

 

Joe Holden reported on his friend Bob Bennett and how they both got into the Air Commandos:

“Bob Bennett worked for me at Tyndall AFB where I was in charge of the live target training squadron from 1960 to 1962.  We had around twenty T-33s and around ten pilots assigned to the squadron.  Bob was a great friend and we spent many hours in the O’Club and at each other’s houses.  His wife’s name was Penny and all his children were quite young.  My wife and your mother were good friends and we partied at each other’s homes.  Bob was an excellent pilot and a fine officer and I always considered Bob as one of my best friends.  I was anxious to leave Tyndall as I had been in the GCI section and was interested in returning to a flying job.  Arnie Tillman called me one day and told me about the Air Commandos and how to apply for it.  While I was filling out the paperwork to join the Air Commandos Bob came in and asked about it.  I told him about the aircraft they were flying and he got excited since he had a lot of B-26 time.  I guess the Air Commandos were real anxious to get B-26 pilots because they accepted him almost immediately.  By the time I got to Hurlburt Bob had just returned from survival school and was due to go to Vietnam in a couple of days.  I went to survival school a few days later and while there I saw an article in the Reno paper that a B-26 had crashed in Vietnam and the pilot and navigator were killed. It was like a punch in the gut to see that the pilot killed was Bob Bennett.  This is the first time I realized how pathetic military survivors were treated.  The only thing the family got was $10K from his NSLI and a folded flag-not much for a young woman with four kids to survive.  In those days the only affordable insurance most of us could buy had war and flight exclusions-not of much value.  It is hard to believe that occurred forty years ago.

 

 

Roy Dalton, a Det 2A B-26 pilot, checked out Capt Robert D. Bennett in Vietnam and kept a log of events which he sent to Sharon Bennett:

 

“I kept a diary while serving in Viet Nam during that time.  I left Hurlburt Field, FL on 20 July 1962 and arrived in Viet Nam on 26 July.  Transportation was via USAF C-121.  Your father arrived by the same method, a flight out of Hurlburt Field with several days of travel before arriving.  He arrived in Viet Nam, Bien Hoa Airbase, on Tuesday, 23 October 1962.  He moved into the living quarters my navigator Charley Kuczaj and I were in which also had a recent vacancy due to the loss of Capt Booth in a U-10. .  These quarters consisted of four cots, 4 wall lockers, four-foot lockers, a table and 4 chairs.  They had wooden floors, screen sides and some sort of corrugated roof.  At the time your father moved in, only my navigator and a U-10 pilot and I were living there.  Your father was the only B-26 pilot to arrive on the rotation aircraft.  Usually there were some 15-25 arrivals.  The others were other type aircraft crews or ground crews.  On Wed. 24 October, I flew with your father on his local checkout ride that was both a checkout as well as a combat mission.  We didn’t waste much time getting a pilot ready.  A pilot arrived proficient and his check ride was more a formality than anything else.  In your father’s case, while I was a pilot, I flew acting as his navigator.  His check ride consisted of a strike mission.  I was there to insure he became acquainted with the procedures of working with a Vietnamese Forward Air Controller and with our local radar site in addition to helping him become acquainted with the area.  On that Wed. my diary entry says, “Flew navigator seat with Bennett to let him get a strike in.  Was a little eager but otherwise ok.”  Bob flew almost every day sometimes twice a day until 5 November.” 

 

My entry for Sun. & Mon. 4 & 5 Nov follows:  “Scheduled for photo this afternoon but no aircraft available.  Slept this afternoon.  Operations Duty Officer tonight.  Things went well until about 8:15.  One C-47 and one B-26 were scrambled-Evans B-26, and Brown and Carson C-47.  Had to go down and get them off.  Then at 11:00 anotherB-26 scrambled.  Bennett and Tulley (the navigator) took this one.  First group back about midnight.  Then at 0130 got word that the flareship had lost contact with the B-26 down south and had seen fire on the ground (a flareship drops flares at night so the attacking plane can see).  Night defense was always a challenge because in almost all cases we encountered fire from the ground.  We were flying below flares that lit up the area so that we could see well.  The flares also exposed us to be seen by the VC.  Our aircraft were old and often we flew them with some of the systems not working properly and we were always in short supply of parts.  The real heroes of our flying organization were the ground crews who worked around the clock keeping the props rotating.  Their dedication was absolutely unbelievable and their ability to keep us in the air was sometimes almost a mystery as how they did it.

 

I Called Lt Col. Doyle and scrambled another C-47 for flare coverage and another B-26 to cover the area.  Things got pretty hectic after that.  Joint Operations Center (JOC) sent two AD-6s off about 0630 and we scrambled a C-47 to act as a relay.  I was finally relieved and went back to take a nap.  Col. Doyle went down to the area in an L-28.  About 0900 heard that one of the AD’s had crashed (these were VNAF aircraft) and that the B-26 had been located.  Returned to the line (operations office) about 1300 (1pm).  The AD-6 pilot was killed and also Bennett and Tulley and the VNAF observer that was on board the aircraft.  (Here I paraphrase.  By 2200 (8pm) we learned that the VC had gotten to the crash and taken everything available.  All guns, bombs and even personal side arms of the crew.  We had recovered and returned the bodies.)  Bennett had a wife and 4 kids.  Tulley was due rotation this month.  He had over 100 missions.  Also an L-28 was shot at in the traffic pattern this morning.  I have alert tonight.”  On Sun. 11 Nov. I made the following entry.  “Heard today that Bennett and Tulley were put in for the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).”

 

“Sharon, I recall your father quite well.  He was very personable and as a pilot he was very good.  He, like all the others in our organization was aggressive in his work.  We didn’t get into the Air Commandos back then without being aggressive and good at what we did.  We flew tired old aircraft and did things with them that would have brought shudders to normal pilots.  We always found a way to get the job done and violating some of the rules was a way of life if it meant getting it done.  Mission accomplishment was paramount in our way of life.  My navigator and I packed your father’s kit to ship home after his death.  You will note that my diary entry includes information that your father had a wife and 4 kids.  That entry was obviously made as a result of evening conversations in the tent where we sat and talked, drank beer and discussed tactics, aircraft, food, family and what was happening in the present.  We seldom talked about the future or politics.  It just wasn’t something, in our environment, that we felt like discussing.  I hope this email has given you some insight into what type of officer and gentleman your father was.  I can add very little more to what I have said but should you feel like asking more questions as to the organization, it’s people, our attitudes and our professionalism, Gene Rossel and others have a wealth of information and if I can add anything, please ask.  One final note.” 

 

“Following the Viet Nam war, I was asked several times by writers for access to my diary.  I refused them all as I felt they were looking for information to support political positions concerning our involvement.  I did release some limited information to a writer who was writing a book on the B-26.  Again, I hope what little information I have provided has been of benefit to you.  Personal Regards, Roy Dalton.”

 

In 1997 Hq AFPC/DPWCM Randolph AFB sent Sharon this note.  “I was unable to locate any unit history which referred to the loss of Capt Bennett’s aircraft.  He was apparently assigned to the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (later designated the 4410th Combat Crew Training Squadron), which was stationed at Bien Hoa in November 1962.  The nickname for this unit was Jungle Jim (unclassified nickname: Farm Gate).  Its mission to RVN personnel was “training tasks including pilot transition, tactical upgrading and crew instructions” as well as “operational tasks as part of combat crew training including combat flights, combat support flights, and psychological warfare flights.”  (The information in this paragraph was taken from 1 July-31 December 1962 History of the Pacific Air Forces, Vol 1, Part 2 (extract), IRIS #01103769, declassified by SEA Declassification & Review Team 23 Mar 1993, p. 2)

 

Capt Bennett and Lt Tulley were killed in RB-26B tail number 44-35692 and they both have streets named after them on Hurlburt Field, FL (SAWC Special Order M-146 dtd 18 November 1964).  Books and report that mentions Bennett and Tulley are as follows:

 

“Air Commando” by Philip D. Chinnery by St Martin’s Paperback ISBN 0-312-95881-1.

“Air Commando and Special Operations Chronology 1961-1991” draft copy by Herbert H. Kissling of AFSOC.

Robert F. Futrell’s United States Air Force Southeast Asia Series  “The Advisory Years in Southeast Asia, to 1965.”

CHECO Reports “USAF Reconnaissance in Southeast Asia 1961-1966 (Microfiche roll #31368) and History of War in Vietnam CHECO Support Activities Part VI (Microfiche roll #40138).

Other books on the Air Commandos:

“Apollo’s Warrior-USAF Special Operations during the Cold War” by Col Michael E. Haas, USAF retired, Air University Press.  For sale at the GPO.

“Air Commando Chronicles” by Col Robert Gleason.

“Air Commando One, Heinie Aderholt and America’s Secret Air War” Smithsonian Institution Press, ISBN1-56998-807-X.

“Honored and Betrayed”, Richard Secord with Jay Wurts, Wiley, ISBN0-471-57328-0.

“From a Dark Sky” by Orr Kelly, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-00917-6.

 

For record search such as this case you can contact Randolph AFB or the VA but to get data you must be a family member.  You can also write to the National Personal Record Center (NPRC), Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Ave, St Louis, MO 63132-5100 tel 314-538-4282, Fax 314-538-4175.  You need to be the person or a close relative and provide data on the person.  They require a Standard Form 180 to request data.  For general questions you can email them at MPR.center@nara.gov.  A web site is located at http://www.archives.gov/facilities/.   To contact the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) you can call them at 866-272-6272 or fax 301-837-0483

 

If you wish to contact Sharon Bennett please email me at aircommando1@earthlink.net and I will pass it to her.  She will attend out 2003 reunion and would like to meet all the people who knew her father.