Eugene “Red” McDaniel, a retired Navy Captain once described by Time Magazine as one of the most brutally tortured POWs during the Vietnam War, awoke on Veterans Day to a surprise at his Alexandria home.
“My dad went out to get his paper this morning and was greeted by this,” said Michael McDaniel in sharing a photo of his 92-year-old father on social media. “Someone in the neighborhood lined their driveway and front yard with American, POW, and Navy flags overnight. They have some wonderful neighbors.”
Named a Living Legend of Alexandria in 2019, McDaniel was on his 81st combat mission over North Vietnam when his A-6 Intruder aircraft was shot down on May 19, 1967. The Top Gun pilot was captured and spent six agonizing years as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison.
“There is no feeling quite like knowing you are in a strange country, surrounded by a people who know no rule but death to the enemy,” said McDaniel of his time in captivity. “Still, the one thing they could not take from me was my faith. There were many times in my lonely cell when my victories were known only by me and God.”
For three years, McDaniel was listed as Missing in Action while his wife, Dorothy, and three children, Michael, David and Leslie, did not know if he was dead or alive. In 1970, the Hanoi government finally acknowledged that McDaniel was being held prisoner. He was released on March 4, 1973.
“My dad was so excited and appreciative to see what his neighbors had done.”
— Michael McDaniel on the tribute for his father, Vietnam POW Eugene “Red” McDaniel
McDaniel spoke at a reception at the Capt. Rocky Versace Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in Del Ray in June honoring Retired Army Colonel Paris Davis, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in March. McDaniel noted that as a Vietnam soldier at the height of the conflict, Davis never received the welcome home and accolades he and his men deserved.
“Those of us released in 1973 came home to a hero’s welcome,” McDaniel said. “Col. Davis never knew that feeling of appreciation for the service and sacrifice he had given for his country. This recognition, this Medal of Honor, is long overdue.”
“My dad was so excited and appreciative to see what his neighbors had done,” Michael McDaniel said. “He has been trying ever since to figure out who did it … calling neighbors, asking anyone he sees walking down the block. It’s a hoot. But so far the culprit is staying anonymous, which I think makes it more special. It shows there are some great folks here in Alexandria.”