Saving Boxer 22 - The Largest Rescue Mission of the Vietnam War
This year the US Air Force celebrates its 71st birthday. The following story of the rescue of th Boxer 22 crew was published in Vietnam magazine in October 2018.
In December 1969 the effort to recover two downed airmen snowballed into the biggest rescue mission of the Vietnam War - A STORY BY DON HOLLWAY, VIETNAM MAGAZINE
The mission went wrong almost from the start. Two U.S. Air Force F-4C Phantoms of the 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron, call sign “Boxer,” found their primary target weathered over. They diverted north to the village of Ban Phanop, Laos, near a chokepoint where the Ho Chi Minh Trail crossed the Nam Ngo River... In the trailing aircraft, Boxer 22, pilot Capt. Benjamin Danielson and weapons systems officer 1st Lt. Woodrow J. “Woodie” Bergeron Jr. were on their first sortie together. Just after dropping their ordnance, the Phantom suddenly pitched up, then down. Their flight leader called over the radio: “Boxer 22, you’re hit! Eject! Eject! Eject!”
It was Friday morning, Dec. 5, 1969, and Boxer 22 was about to become the objective of the biggest rescue mission of the Vietnam War.
Ejecting, Danielson and Bergeron—Boxer 22 Alpha and Bravo—came down on opposite sides of a dogleg in the Nam Ngo, in a valley a mile across and a thousand feet deep, walled with karst, limestone cliffs. They were just 10 miles from the North Vietnam border, but only about 65 miles east of NKP—Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, the main base for U.S. Air Force special operations squadrons specializing in search and rescue.
The rescue of Boxer 22 was the largest search and rescue mission of the Vietnam War. A total of 336 sorties were flown by aircraft that expended 1,463 smart bombs, high-explosive bombs, cluster bombs, smoke bombs, napalm bombs and rocket pods over the course of three days. Skyraiders alone flew 242 sorties; the HH-3 and HH-53 helicopters, over 40. Five Skyraiders were damaged, but the Jolly Greens got the worst of it. Five of the 10 involved never flew again.
After nearly 48 hours in enemy territory, and on his last legs, 1st Lt. Woodie Bergeron was finally rescued. Tragically, Capt. Benjamin Danielson was shot and killed before he could be rescued. Rescue chopper tail gunner Airman 1st Class David Davisonwas killed by enemy fire.
Above right: The crew of Boxer 22. Weapons systems officer Woody Bergeron, at left, and pilot Benjamin Danielson (Photo courtesy Don Hollway)