Bennie H. Mann, Jr. Colonel, United States Marine Corps

  • Marine Corps' first helo pilot, Navy Cross recipient, former MAG-16 CO dies
  • Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
  • Story Identification #: 2005629175932
  • Story by Corporal Paul Leicht, USMC


MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, California. (June 27, 2005)

“The Navy Cross is awarded to Major Bennie H. Mann, Jr., United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander and Division Flight Leader with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 in Quang Bin Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 31 March 1965 …”

With these words, a United States Marine helicopter pilot marked a historical first for Marine Corps aviation history: the Navy Cross.

During the tumultuous conflict in Vietnam, 362 Marines would go on to receive the Navy Cross and one of our nation's highest military honors for their selfless actions in war. For retired Colonel Bennie Howard Mann, Jr. – who recently passed away June 9, 2005, at the age of 77 after struggling with lymphoma (Hodgkin's Disease) – the milestone was but one of many demonstrations of courage that became the standard for helicopter pilots.

“(Bennie) was a great pilot, a greater leader and an inspiration for all those who served with him,” said Tim O'Hara, curator, Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. “He had complete command of the concepts of leadership that made everyone want to fly into hell, if need be, because (he) thought it was a good idea. He was one of the ‘great ones' and will be missed by all those who knew him.”

A former commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16, Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, Mann had an illustrious military career since first joining the military.

“… Participating in a seventeen-aircraft flight transporting assault troops of the Fifth Vietnamese Airborne Battalion, Major Mann, along with the entire mission, was scheduled to make three assault landings into an area defended by an estimated force of two companies of insurgent communist (Viet Cong) guerrillas. During the first landing, his aircraft was hit in the engine compartment by intense enemy automatic weapons fire …”

Mann was born in Yuma, Arizona, on May 31, 1928, and later graduated from Yuma Union High School in June 1946. He attended Arizona State University at Tempe until he joined the U.S. Navy in 1950. After serving aboard the U.S.S. Essex during Korea, Mann was selected for the Aviation Cadet Program in 1951 and was later commissioned a Marine Second Lieutenant in April 1953.

“… Although he was experiencing aircraft power and control malfunctions, he continued to lead the attack a second and third time into ever increasing hostile fire. When, after lifting off from the third assault landing, he saw a downed aircraft and wounded crewmen under enemy attack in the landing zone, he unhesitatingly turned his aircraft around and braved the intense enemy onslaught for a fourth time in order to rescue the crew of a stricken helicopter …”

Returning to Korea, Mann was promoted to First Lieutenant while serving with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115. After Korea he served as an instructor at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, where he was also promoted to Captain. In subsequent years, he served with Marine Air Support Squadron 1 and VMA-533 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, before a tour of duty with the Force Communications Company, 2nd Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“… Displaying exceptional leadership and courage, he directed the rescue efforts, and when his crewmen and copilot were taken under fire by the nearby enemy, he fearlessly hovered his helicopter between the enemy and the crewmen in order to shield their rescue efforts …”

As a Captain, Mann earned a degree in military science from the University of Omaha and later attended the junior officers course at Quantico, Virginia, in 1962 before transitioning to helicopters in October 1963 at Santa Ana, California.

Mann was promoted to Major in 1964 before shipping off for Vietnam, where he erved as operations officer and later executive officer for HMM-163. Returning from Vietnam, he became an instructor at the amphibious base in Little Creek, Virginia, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1967.

From March 1968 to August 1969 he served at Headquarters Marine Corps as a member of the policy analysis branch and went on to help establish the career-planning branch where he remained to serve as its first executive officer.

“… As a result of his courageous actions, inspiring leadership, and extraordinary airmanship, Major Mann contributed significantly to the successful assault mission and to saving the lives of several of his fellow Marines …”

Mann returned to Vietnam in December 1969 and was assigned as commanding officer of HMM-161 until July 1970 when he took over as executive officer of MAG-16. In December 1970 then Lieutenant Colonel Mann returned to duty at Santa Ana serving in several commands. In June 1972 he attended the Naval War College, and in April 1973 he was assigned to the Commander-in-Chief Pacific, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization planning officer.

After promotion to Colonel in June 1974, the final years of his Marine Corps career took him to Headquarters Fleet Marine Force Pacific, as head of the operations and training branch. He then went on to earn his master's in business administration from Pepperdine University before being assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing as assistant chief-of-staff, in June 1976 before taking command of MAG-16 in August 1977.

Finally in 1978, Mann transferred to the Third Marine Amphibious Force in Okinawa, Japan, where he served as chief of staff until his retirement.

“… His heroic conduct and selfless devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service …”

His decorations and medals included the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and 37 air medals.

Mann is survived by his wife Carroll; sons George and Russ, and daughter, Connie; nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He will be buried July 7, 2005, alongside fellow American patriots in the silent garden of fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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