Thursday, May 24, 2007

Navy Flier Brings Father Home from War

MINNEAPOLIS (May 17, 2007) – Lt. Cmdr. Brian Danielson and the Veterans Color Guard from Kenyon, Minn., render honors as the remains of Danielson’s father, Air Force Maj. Benjamin Danielson, are prepared for transportation from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Danielson’s remains were returned to Minnesota 37 years after his death in combat in Laos. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Sheehan (RELEASED)

Navy Flier Brings His Father Home from War, 37 Years Later
Story Number: NNS070518-10
Release Date: 5/18/2007 11:55:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Sheehan, Navy Operational Support Center Minneapolis Public Affairs

MINNEAPOLIS (NNS) -- Following a plot straight out of a Hollywood movie, Lt. Cmdr. Brian Danielson escorted his father’s remains home to Minnesota on May 17, nearly 37 years after his death in combat during the Vietnam War.

Danielson and his mother flew with the remains of Air Force Maj. Benjamin Franklin Danielson from Hawaii to Minnesota in preparation for a final burial in Kenyon, Minn., on June 15.

Danielson was an 18-month-old in Kenyon when his father was shot down over Laos on Dec. 5, 1965. The elder Danielson had been flying a F-4 Phantom when he and weapons officer Lt. Woody Bergeron ejected from their damaged aircraft, under enemy fire, and parachuted into the jungle below. Heavy ground fire prevented the downed fliers from being immediately rescued; and, ultimately, more than 500 search and rescue (SAR) sorties were flown in an effort to retrieve the aviators in what amounted to the largest SAR mission of the war.

Bergeron was rescued after 51 hours in the jungle, but the elder Danielson never made it home. The Air Force officially listed him as missing in action (MIA) until 1976, when his status was changed to killed in action with no body recovered.

In 1991, a U.S. service pistol exhibited in a Vietnamese museum was discovered to have been issued to the elder Danielson, and in 2003 a piece of bone and Danielson’s dog tags were brought to U.S. authorities in Vietnam.

In the summer of 2006, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) led an expedition to Laos in an effort to find more of the elder Danielson’s remains, and the younger Danielson joined the effort while on leave from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 209. By journeying to Laos, Danielson became the first active-duty service member to participate in an expedition for an MIA father.

“Everything lined up perfectly,” Danielson said. “My squadron had a brief break in our training, and my Skipper approved my request. I was very excited to join the effort and the work JPAC does.”

Although the expedition did not find any additional remains, DNA testing conducted by JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory concluded that the bone fragment came from his father, allowing the younger Danielson and his mother to plan a final burial and memorial service at a family plot in Kenyon.

“As soon as I got back from Laos,” he said “I jumped back into training with VAQ-209, and even got to fly an exchange flight with a German squadron that flew the same type of F-4’s that my father flew. A very short time after walking the jungle trails in Laos where my father was killed, I was with my squadron in Iraq. It’s been a wild year.”

Danielson, his mother, and his father's remains welcomed at the airport by honor guards from the Kenyon VFW and American Legion, the Northland Vietnam Veteran’s Association, and the Everett McClay VFW Post 1296.

“It’s been great to have a proper welcome home for my dad,” Danielson said. “This experience, looking for my father’s remains, at one point seemed hopeless but it ended up being a very positive thing. We should all be reminded of what it means to sacrifice for our country, and what our country will sacrifice for you. No matter how long it takes, no matter the circumstances, if you sacrifice for our country, we will bring you home.”

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