RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The 558th Flying Training Squadron honored one of their own when they dedicated the Capt. Benjamin F. Danielson Auditorium in a ceremony Dec. 2.
Captain Danielson was an F-4C pilot in the 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron stationed at Cam Rahn Air Base during the Vietnam War. On Dec. 5, 1969 Captain Danielson, and his weapons systems officer, 1st Lt. Woody Bergeron, were shot down during a bombing run over the Mui Gia Pass in Laos. The subsequent rescue mission to save the two aviators stands as the largest combat search and rescue operation in the history of the U.S. Air Force.
Lieutenant Bergeron was rescued after 50 hours on the ground, with enemy forces closing in as near as 25 meters of his position. Captain Danielson wasn't as fortunate. He would be listed as Missing in Action until 1976 when his status was officially changed to Killed In Action/Body Not Recovered.
The rescue operation to save the two former members of the 558th is now simply referred to as "Boxer 22," the call sign the pair took off with that day.
The dedication ceremonies began with a heritage flight for Capt. Danielson's son, Cmdr. Brian Danielson, an active duty Naval Flight Officer, and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jim George, the on-scene-commander for much of the "Boxer 22" rescue mission. They flew in a formation of two T-38s from the 435th Fighter Training Squadron. Lt. Col. Scott Cerone, 558th Flying Training Squadron director of operations, and Capt. Landon Phillips, 12th Operations Group, piloted the aircraft with Danielson and George in the rear cockpits. Upon return from their sortie, the flyers traveled to the 558th to dedicate the auditorium to Commander Danielson's father.
Captain Danielson's widow, Mary, was escorted into the auditorium by Col. Chris Richardson, 12th Flying Training Wing vice commander. The family was honored in the ceremony while surrounded by numerous past and present members of the 558th as well as 20 members of the rescue force who braved intense enemy fire more than a three day period in an effort to recover Captain Danielson.
Following a brief account of the "Boxer 22" mission, the display honoring Captain Danielson was unveiled.
"There were many dark, very dark days after I was notified that Ben was missing," said Mary. "I just could not believe that this man, a man that to me was larger than life, was gone. Thank you all for not forgetting Ben."
Following the dedication ceremony, the participants of the "Boxer 22" Combat Search and Rescue mission gathered at the Parr Officer Club's Auger Inn to share their story and experiences with members of the 12th FTW and numerous other Randolph-based guests.
"We almost got him out," said Colonel George. "I made several rocket passes from west to east around Ben's position to take out this one 37mm gun that was a real problem for the Jollys. It was kinda tucked into this small cave on the south side of this karst," his hand pointing to a picture on the screen of a harsh, rocky landscape frozen in a photograph taken by another A-1 pilot assisting the rescue. "I can still see the tracers that were coming from that area right there."
Colonel George received The Silver Star for his part in this massive recovery effort. He retired in 1986.
Commander Danielson spoke to the crowd at the conclusion of the presentation. He described the feelings he had when travelling to North Vietnam with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, to search for his father's remains in 2003.
"His account of a son searching for a father is inspirational," said Lt. Col. Bryan Runkle, 558th FTS commander. "The 558th was humbled by the opportunity to honor the Danielson Family and forever immortalize Captain Benjamin Danielson - he is not forgotten."