Ben Danielson

1943-3-31 to 1969-12-5
Submitted by Dan on Sat, 09/21/2019 - 04:20

Ben was an air force pilot shot down in Vietnam.

Personal Memories Bone Fragment Ends Vet's Search For MIA Father Kenyon, Minn. (AP) -- An old Air Force pilot's sidearm. A set of dog tags. A survivor's recollection of enemy shouts, gunshots, a friend's scream from across a river in Laos, then silence. A single fragment of bone.

It's enough, the son says. A family and a nation have done all they could.

"It's time. It's time to accept that he's dead and bring him home," the son, Brian Danielson, said of his dad.

Capt. Benjamin Franklin Danielson was 26 when his F4 Phantom fighter jet was shot down over Laos in December 1969 during the Vietnam War. The Air Force listed him as missing in action until 1976, then presumed dead.

Lt. Cmdr. Brian Danielson, 39, a Navy pilot from Kenyon, followed his father into the air, though he was just 1 year old when his dad went to war, 18 months old when Capt. Danielson was shot down.

Last year, after directing operations of a squadron of carrier-based planes in Iraq, Brian Danielson got permission from the Joint POW/MIA Command to join a ground search.

It would be a search along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and he would be the first active-duty service member to participate in a search for an MIA father.

That search and a subsequent visit to another site turned up no new evidence.

But with the weight of what was found earlier, including a "highly probable DNA match" from the bone fragment found in 2003, the in-country experience persuaded Danielson and his mother, Mary, to call an end to the long seeking.

"You could shoot holes in all the investigative work that's been done. You could drive yourself crazy. But we found out what we needed to know. ... We have the certain knowledge that he is dead. And I got to go to Laos and see how the process works," Brian Danielson said.

Now the Navy flier is planning a final flight for his father, with military escort from the DNA lab in Hawaii to Minnesota, and a June memorial in Kenyon. He plans a military flyover there and a reunion of people who tried to rescue his father, many of whom he has met.

He has invited veterans, too, and people who wore a bracelet bearing his father's name.

His mother, still in Kenyon, added a note to the invitation: "If you have known us, walked along with us from afar, or just knew of our journey, you are most welcome to join us."

Brian said his long odyssey taught him much about his father, the man as well as the fellow combat pilot.

"Because I was so young, I don't have that personal relationship or knowledge of him," he said. "But I've learned that he was a good man.

"A lot of people have said my dad would be proud of me. That feels pretty good. That's about as good as it gets for a father-son relationship."

On Dec. 5, 1969, Ben Danielson took off from Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, to intercept North Vietnamese troops on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Another pilot saw his plane pitch violently, according to military reports. Two parachutes opened. Danielson and 1st Lt. Woody Bergeron, his weapons officer, landed on opposite sides of a river.

Rescue teams made hundreds of sorties trying to save the two downed fliers. They were driven back by enemy fire, and one helicopter crew member was killed.

Danielson and Bergeron could see each other across the river and communicated by radio. But the next morning, Bergeron heard sounds of close fighting from Danielson's position, then silence.

Bergeron was rescued after 51 hours in the jungle. He has talked with Brian Danielson, telling him what he could about those last hours, and he plans to attend the memorial.

In 1990, Brian and his mother established a leadership award in his father's name at St. Olaf College in Northfield where father and son both played football.

A year later, the father's service pistol was found in a Vietnam museum. In 2003, a piece of bone and a set of dog tags were brought to U.S. authorities in Vietnam. DNA testing indicated the bone almost certainly was Danielson's.

As he returned from Laos last year, Brian Danielson talked about living with his father's absence.

"If you aren't careful, life can pass you by," he said. "I believed and still do believe that the last thing my father would have wanted would be for me to miss opportunities in life because I was too distraught over the circumstances of his disappearance."

He's disappointed the team failed to find anything in Laos, but quick to praise the effort.

"This is the most important thing I've ever done," he said. "I was able to go to the area where he was killed. I walked around and did some soul-searching. Mom and I talked and decided it's time to close the books on this and be thankful for what we have."

He is thankful "for all the people who've stepped in because my father wasn't there," and for strangers who cared enough to wear a bracelet.

He said, "I've been contacted by a family who said they had been wearing my dad's bracelet for 23 years." They said there was never a doubt in their mind that we would find my dad and bring him home."

Apr 2, 2007 ï¿ 1/2 2007 The Associated Press Reproduced under 17 USC ï¿ 1/2 107

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