Major Ben F. Danielson Award

For Inspiration and Leadership


Major Ben F. DanielsonOn 05 Dec 1969 two F-4C Phantoms from the 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay were tasked against a choke point on the Ho Chi Minh Trail near Ban Phanop in southern Laos. The wing position was flown by Capt Benjamin F. Danielson, pilot, and 1st Lt Woodrow J. Bergeron, navigator, in F-4C tail number 63-7444 using the call sign "Boxer 22".

As Boxer 22 was passing through 6000 feet while pulling off after its first attack the F-4 was hit by 37mm anti aircraft fire. Danielson turned toward South Vietnam but lost aircraft control and the crew was forced to eject a few miles east of the target. Both men reached ground safely but were several hundred yards apart and on opposite sides of a river. Worse yet, they landed in an area heavily populated by well-armed and unfriendly NVA troops. The only good news was that Danielson and Bergeron could communicate with each other and with supporting aircraft using their survival radios.

SAR efforts began at once but the rescue helicopters found themselves flying into a virtual storm of fire. At least 7 helos from Nakon Phanom and Udorn made rescue attempts, and all were shot up with one crewman killed in action: A1C David M. Davison, 40th ARRS, in HH-53C tail number 68-8283. A total of 88 SAR sorties were flown before sundown on the 5th, but to no avail.

The SAR forces returned at first light on the 6th, with fixed-wing aircraft hosing down the area in an attempt to suppress the ground fire. During the morning hours Bergeron advised that he heard shouts and gunfire from the area where Danielson was hiding and that he'd not been able to contact Danielson since. Fixed-wing aircraft laid smoke screens for the helicopters, but repeated rescue efforts ended with shot-up helicopters and no success (one HH-53 got stuck in a tree and was able to break loose only by breaking the tree). A total of 154 sorties were flown on the 6th, but at sundown Bergeron still was on the ground. After sundown, Bergeron could hear NVA troops using dogs in an attempt to find him amongst the bamboo and tall grass in the river valley.

The SAR attempts began again at sunrise on the 7th with fixed-wing strikes on the NVA positions, but the first HH-53 in was driven off by ground fire. Following additional air strikes, another smoke tunnel was laid and an HH-53C was brought in, flanked by A-1 Skyraiders blasting away at everything in sight. Bergeron saw the approaching helicopter and broke cover, heading toward the river. The HH-53C crew spotted Bergeron, dropped a rescue hoist, and reeled him in.

The SAR effort extended over 51 hours and involved a total of 366 aircraft sorties. Although Bergeron's evidence indicated Captain Danielson had been located by the NVA and apparently killed in a shootout, there was no positive evidence of Danielson's death. He was carried as Missing in Action until 19 July 1976, when the Secretary of the Air Force approved a Presumptive Finding of Death.

In 1990 Brian Danielson, son of Ben Danielson, and his mother established a leadership award in his father's name at St. Olaf College 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.

Today, the servant leadership displayed by Major Ben F. Danielson lives on through the Danielson Award. 

The Danielson Award Plaque Overlooking Manitou Field

"The Danielson Award is the highest honor given to an Ole Football player.  This prestigious award represents the individual within our football team that displays the greatest inspiration and leadership to his teammates.  This award has no reflection on playing time or football success, rather it is given to the player that inspires others to be the best they can be and in the process truly making St. Olaf Football the very special experience that it is meant to be."  

- Jerry Olszewski, Former St. Olaf Head Football Coach


Danielson Award Winners

2014 – Kyle Foster

2013 – Mike Thai

2012 – Ben Dobson

2011 – Kevin Foss

2010 – Drew Penz

2009 – Zach Henschel

2008 – Michael Williams

2007 – Blake Hamel

2006 – Ben Veach

2005 – Pete Cathcart

2004 – Charlie Krois

2003 – Brian Senske

2002 – Dan Meyers

2001 – Joe Hammond

2000 – Aaron Douglas

1999 – Ben Dietrich

1998 – David Bergan

1997 – Jesse Bengston

1996 – Eric Anderson

1995 – Mike Finch

1994 – Eric Lien

1993 – Mike Fossum

1992 – Aaron Butler

1991 – Andy Butler

1990 – Coach Tom Porter


Link to Major Danielson's Memorial Wall: