Carl Ben Eielson
Physically and mentally tough, fearless, relentless in pursuing his goals, and capable of enduring staggering physical hardship, Carl Ben Eielson was a survivor and a winner cut from the stock of true American heroes.
Ben Eielson was a small town boy, born in Hatton, North Dakota, in 1897. He displayed an early interest in airplanes and learned to fly in the United States Army Air Service in 1917, just 14 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight.
Eielson's flying skills made him a legend in his own time, and his career pinnacle came when he piloted the Australian explorer Sir George Hubert Wilkins on an epic 2200-mile flight over the Arctic Ocean from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitsbergen in arctic Norway in 1928. He later flew Wilkins when exploring Antarctica.
He was the first pilot to land on floating ice and the first to fly airmail in Alaska. He also was the first to fly an airplane in Antarctica, making initial flights there in 1928 when Admiral Richard E. Byrd's planes were still heading south on ships.
Eielson won the Distinguished Flying Cross and also the Harmon Trophy, which was presented to him by President Hoover in 1929. He never sought public attention even when meeting kings and presidents or talking with world aviation leaders including Generals Billy Mitchell and H. H. (Hap) Arnold, and Admiral Byrd.
He helped change the course of history with his pioneering work in Alaskan aviation and with his correct forecast that big pressurized airliners would someday fly over the top of the world.
He fulfilled his dream of forming his own airline in Alaska in 1929. However, his success was short lived as he was killed in a crash while on a rescue mission to save crew and cargo from a ship that was icebound in Siberia in November 1929. Ben Eielson was only 32 when he died, but he left a legacy of achievement and vision. It's reported that more than 10,000 people came to Hatton to pay tribute to Eielson at his funeral.
In 1997, Eielson was given the North Dakota Rough Rider Award. The Rough Rider Award recognizes present or former North Dakotans who have been influenced by North Dakota in achieving national recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor upon North Dakota and its citizens. Recipients of the award are chosen by the Governor with the concurrence of the Secretary of State and the Director of the State Historical Society.