Recorded live at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum's 50th-Anniversary Reunion for former Vietnam War POWs in May 2023, Sid Stockdale, one of Vice Admiral Jim and League of Wives co-founder Sybil Stockdale's four sons, joins Tyler to discuss what he remembers of his parents' critical ...
The finale of our story brings us to December 1972, as President Richard Nixon's administration strives to bring an end to the stalemate in peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese. In this episode, we'll hear how Operation Homecoming came to bring 591 POWs home in February of 1973, 8.5 long yea...
In November of 1970, fifty-six U.S. Special Forces soldiers executed the most ambitious rescue mission of the Vietnam War, raiding a North Vietnamese prison camp known as "Son Tay," just outside of Hanoi. In this episode, we hear from Terry Buckler, the youngest of the Son Tay Raiders. At the time, ...
In Part 2 of our two-part focus on the League of Wives, we examine how exactly this courageous band of women was able to organize under Sybil Stockdale and make a significant impact on the return of their lost men. We rejoin Andrea Rander, wife of Chief Warrant Officer Donald Rander, and Pat Mearns,...
In Part 1 of our two-part focus on the League of Wives, we are introduced to Andrea Rander and Pat Mearns, each young mothers to two girls when their husbands were shot down in North Vietnam. Guided by expert historian and author Heath Hardage Lee, we set the scene for the League's formation by trac...
In this special episode, we depart from our central narrative and turn our attention to Washington D.C., where Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson & Richard Nixon were making a crucial impact on the treatment and release of the hundreds of American prisoners of war who were being brutally mistreated in Nor...
Mike McDaniel was nine years old when his father, Capt. Red McDaniel, was shot down and captured in the jungles of North Vietnam on May 19, 1967. It would be three long years until he and the rest of the clan heard any further news on the status of their patriarch. Meanwhile, Everett hinged his opti...
Episode 2: Bonus Content
Episode 2 Transcript:
[00:00:00] MIKE MCDANIEL: Here is the first letter we received from my dad. It was written on the 15th of December, 1969. Dearest Dorothy, Michael, David, Leslie, my health is good in all respects. No permanent injuries. You are my inspiration. Children - work, study, play hard, help each other. And mommy, be strong for our reunion. Invest savings and mutual funds [00:00:30] in stock, your decisions are mine.
Dorothy, I love you deeply.
Eugene, dated 15 December, 1969.
I was eight when he was sent off to war and , nine when he was shot down.
We were living in Virginia Beach, which is a, a navy town. So there's a lot of pro-military, you know, sentiment in the town. You know, we knew [00:01:00] all the kids that were kids of his fellow aviators and the, the wives would get together a lot. So it was kind of a close knit family.
He was you know, a hot shot Navy pilot.
There was a, water spout that had formed off Virginia Beach. That was a real big one. Was all big news and everything, and he was assigned in the aircraft to go check it out.
So here, he flies and checks out the water spout, and then he flew right over the house on his way back. And that was the coolest thing. The neighborhood thought that was so cool. You know, that was back when you could get away with doing that kind of stuff.[00:01:30]
So your dad was pretty much a badass
He was a badass. He was, yeah.
Third grade, I don't think we really, you know, fathomed what it was. It was like he was going off to do his job. At nine years old, you don't think, weren't . Petrified or terrified about it all.
It was just kind of he'll -- it'll be, I'll be fine.
Tyler McCusker: [00:02:00] That's retired Navy captain Mike McDaniel. He's speaking of his dad, Eugene Red McDaniel, a now 91 Year old also former Navy who spent six years in captivity as a POW to the North Vietnamese. We are lucky to feature both of them on this podcast.
The day Red left for Vietnam was sort of like any other day in the life of a Naval flyer.[00:02:30] He was gone on a lot of various missions, and his family knew he was one of the best. There was rarely a thought their patriarch wouldn't come home, But Mike -- Mike remembered feeling a bit differently. the day his dad left in 1960
I had this little reel-to-reel tape player and I recorded our [00:03:00] conversation as we were walking down the hall, as he was leaving the house. And I don't know why I did that.
I mean, I just, I I, I kind of felt it was a, it was an important time and I wanted to capture it.
Of course, Mike was right to feel differently that day. He wouldn't see his father again for six years .
I was not prepared to be a prisoner of war
I felt the possibility of being killed was fairly, fairly high. But being in prisoner of war, I felt was very small. And, uh, I didn't [00:03:30] really concern myself with that until I was floating down into the parachute**
[00:03:44] ALVIN TOWNLEY: I think we forget that, you know, the late 1960s were a terrible time for American unity. Very tumultuous
[00:03:55] Tyler McCusker: That again is Alvin Townley, our historian.[00:04:00]
[00:04:08] ALVIN TOWNLEY: President Kennedy was assassinated
Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.
There were riots in Chicago in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention.
the body count of American men in Southeast Asia and, and Vietnam was getting higher quickly.
People had really began to [00:04:30] protest the war in a lot of, segments
It was just a really difficult time for America.
Vietnam was really at the center of it, and we talk about America being divided today, and it is in many ways and polarized today, but again, a lot of that came back to to the Vietnam War.
[00:04:43] PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Having met hundreds of you personally, and thousands of you that I've spoken to, having heard your questions, having looked into your faces, you have given me new hope about America
[00:04:56] Tyler McCusker: As a private citizen from 1963 to [00:05:00] 1967. Former Vice President Richard Nixon did not take a break from politics. He traveled across the globe meeting with world leaders and campaigning tirelessly across the country for Republican candidates in the 1964. and 1966 elections
in 1968, he would announce that he was running for president again. This time, his platforms of restoring law and order [00:05:30] and exiting our position in the Vietnam War honorably resonated with the American.
Because this time, unlike his bid, eight years prior, he would win.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: [00:06:00] Tonight, I again proudly accept that nomination for president of the United States.
Nixon positioned himself as the champion of those he called the silent majority.
Those were Americans who did not join in the [00:06:30] protests or counterculture or public discourse about the war. Nixon was to be their voice.
[00:06:40] PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Tonight to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support. Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The question at issue is not [00:07:00] whether Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war.
The great question is: How can we win America's peace? What is the best way to end it?
[00:07:13] Tyler McCusker: But when Nixon was sworn in, in January of 1969,
hundreds of American men were already being tortured, killed and starved in North Vietnamese prison camps.[00:07:30]
Very soon it would become one of Nixon's most important issues,
but for those famished and desperate, the American government probably could not have felt farther away.[00:08:00]
Still, they kept their honor and their sense of duty. Let's go back into Red's past to find out why. I'm one of the few people who can say I'd rather be Red than Dead
EUGENE ‘RED’ MCDANIEL:
Well, in another life I was a redhead and, uh, some people [00:08:30] ask me today, uh, why they called me Red. Well, it's, it's kind of gray now, but I just never, never changed.
I am Eugene B. McDaniel.
Retired military Navy captain 91 years old in September.[00:09:00]
I was, the son of a sharecropper a host of eight children,
Red was born September, 1931 to Willard and Helen McDaniel. Poor tobacco sharecroppers in North Carolina. Sharecroppers only rent the land on which they farm, giving a part of each crop as rent to their landlord. Red was the eldest of eight children.[00:09:30] [00:10:00]
I was an athlete and my father gave me the option of plowing or playing and guess what I did? And I was able to get a scholarship and played basketball, baseball, uh, for four years.
Red attended Campbell Junior College in Bows Creek, [00:10:30] North Carolina on a baseball scholarship there. He met Dorothy Howard, the daughter of a Baptist minister. He would go on to marry her six years later.
I , started college in 1950, finished 1954, and when you finish college, you [00:11:00] have no deferment, so you're eligible for the draft.
In the battle against the communist North Vietnamese between Commander Everett Alvarez's captured in August, 1964 and the prisoner of war release in February, 1973, the number of conscripted Americans would swell to more than 1,850,000.
Well, in 1954 a ruling came out; if you [00:11:30] signed for more than $5,000, you had to spend two years on a parenting roster. I was 22 years old, not ready for the major leagues, couldn't be farmed out because I'd sit on the bench for two years and when I finished, I'd be 24, 2 years into my career,
So I decided, uh, that wasn't a way to go. I decided I'd join the Navy instead and become a flyer.
It was an extension of athletics.
[00:12:00] Red noted that the competitiveness that came with being an elite naval aviator was already inside him from being an almost professional athlete. During the Korean War between the Junes of 1950 and 1953, more than 1.5 million American men were inducted into military service.
Red would join two years later during what would become a short-lived American peacetime.[00:12:30]
I joined the Navy in March 15th, 1955, and went into flight training in Pensacola
Everett, who is six years Red's Junior, would've just turned 18 five years prior to his own flight training in Pensacola in 1960. Neither man would've been likely to point out Vietnam on a map in the late fifties or early sixties, and they certainly couldn't have imagined [00:13:00] themselves as prisoners of war during this otherwise happy and fruitful American peace time.
Flight training was 18 months.
I was married in between basic flight training in advance to my wife Dorothy, who was still with me. And we, uh came outta flight training in October, 1956.
Got my wings, and I had a choice out of there., I went into the A -6 community, [00:13:30] which was a new state-of-the-art aircraft, a jet, versus a prop.
It came out in 1964 built by Grumman aircraft. All-weather attack bomber, , two crewmen, a bombadier navigator who fed a computer that I flew by
Quite a difference; you come in a lot faster than a jet. You coming aboard ship 20 to 30 knots faster than another prop.[00:14:00]
I flew, uh the, A -1 Skyraider 900 hours before I was shot down in Vietnam in 1967.
Went to Oceana, Virginia, where we stayed for. About 25 years. My family stayed there
while I went to Vietnam on [ USS] Enterprise, out of Alameda, California.
Unlike Everett, who had been [00:14:30] married just five months before shipping out, Red was a father, a family man. He had his wife, Dorothy-- spoiler alert, they are still married today-- 65 years later, and his three children, including his eldest, who would go on to follow in Red's footsteps as a naval captain.
Through the fifties and into the early sixties, America kept supporting the South Vietnamese regime, which it saw as a bulwark; A line of defense [00:15:00] against communism there in Southeast Asia. No one really knew it.
Like Everett and most Americans, Red had a simple understanding of what was a complex conflict.
Well I knew very little about Vietnam. I just knew that the the communism, uh, was a big fact of life there. And, uh, it was the north versus the south. Uh, Vietnam bordered China and it was [00:15:30] primarily, uh, an air war in the north.
We had the draft, so we had a lot of good people, uh, a lot of people to volunteer and had no problem meeting the quotas those days. A very strong, committed force, I think. And we, uh, had an aversion to communism, which was a threat. And , when asked to, to go to war, we went proudly [00:16:00] and to, to serve well.
It was really a, a different type of war than we had fought before.
There was not -- it wasn't there weren't clear battle lines, there weren't clear enemies there wasn't always a uniformed adversary. So a lot of times, American troops had no way of [00:16:30] knowing whether the, the man they encountered on a road in a rice field or in a jungle was a communist, a guerilla of you know fighting for the Viet Cong or if he was a friendly local villager.[
And so that was extremely difficult because Americans just didn't know who was a friend and who was an enemy visually speaking. And there weren't front lines. It was a a situation where Americans had outpost, fire bases or or or, different [00:17:00] areas that were secure.
And they'd have helicopters full of soldiers that would go out to different points out in the country and go on missions to to fight the North the North Vietnamese regulars who had infiltrated the country or the Viet Cong rebels or Viet Cong gorillas.
There were ambushes, there were trip wires in the jungle.
It, and it was very fluid. . There are some hills that the American soldiers would take and then they'd hold it for a day, fly back to their base, and the North Vietnamese or [00:17:30] the Viet Cong would take the hill the next day. They'd have to take it all over again.
Is, it was a really difficult type of war to fight, and it was hard to know exactly what effect they were having.
[00:17:41] PRESIDENT LYNDON B JOHNSON: Our airs strikes on North Vietnam , have been aimed at military targets and have been controlled with the greatest of care.
[00:17:51] Tyler McCusker: In the mid to late sixties, under President Johnson, the American military would engage in what was called Operation Rolling Thunder[[00:18:00]
At my direction, United States aircraft have resumed action in North Vietnam,
The goal was to destroy most of North Vietnam's oil storage facilities.[00:18:30]
they struck the lines of supply, which support the continuing action of men and arms against the people and the government of South Vietnam.
Despite a sustained three year aerial bombing [00:19:00] campaign to achieve this, Operation Rolling Thunder was largely unsuccessful.
By the close of the operation in November, 1968, more than 900 aircraft were lost and a thousand American servicemen would be reported, killed, wounded, or captured.
We had the best equipment flying off the, a nuclear power aircraft carrier -- [00:19:30] USS Enterprise
USS enterprise was the first nuclear powered ship to engage in combat
During its time in the seventh fleet from November, 1966 to July, 1967, she launched 13,400 attacks, dropping 28 million pounds of ordinance. As part of that offensive 24 aircraft were lost in 19 young naval aviators were killed [00:20:00] and or captured, bound for Hanoi were killed or captured, bound for Hanoi.
On the day that we were shot down, it was a major escalation point in the war.
We lost seven aircraft, uh, I think 10 crewman [00:20:30]
It was called Black Friday as one of the worst days of the war.
It was a tragic day for us.
We were flying in weapons armed
We were going into Hanoi with 23 other aircraft, a formation of 24 aircraft. And the A six is not built for that element. We are single aircraft, so we can maneuver as we want, but this [00:21:00] day we were, we had a four F-4s. F eight, all in the same flight.
So we were restricted because we had to go slower than we normally did . And we couldn't maneuver because we had to maintain flight integrity. That was not our element.
We were probably about 30, 40 miles from the target, a place called Little Detroit, where they repaired a lot of the trucks
Well, my [00:21:30] flight never got to the target
I had a young man, Lieutenant James Kelly Patterson flying with me as my navigator. We'd flown from the beginning 900 hours.
The following is Red reading from his book, _Scars and Stripes_ originally published in 1975, just two years after he touched back on American Soil.
[00:22:00] The sound of Kelly's voice was always pleasant and reassuring to me. We had flown together for 18 months, almost 700 flight hours together. I knew his every move. He knew mine. He was 26 years old, round faced. Pleasant and sensitive. Kelly would never let the bombs go if the target was at all in question due to a weak radar signal.
For him, life was too precious just to let fly with destruction at everything in North Vietnam. [00:22:30] I admired him for that virtue, among many other things, and this made our comradeship something deep and vital. Kelly had a brother in Vietnam fighting for the infantry in the south. Whenever Kelly got leave, he would fly his, find his way to the name for his brother and go on patrol with him just so he could be with him.
To me, that was a kind of love that doesn't come down the street every day.
So I knew his every move. He knew mine [00:23:00] and he was really the heart of the system
. We were, uh, flying about 30, 40 miles from the Target Hanoi, we were dodging number four when we were hit by number five.
Our system, our A-6, we had equipment on the aircraft that would force the missile surface-to-air missile, which we were hit by to go in between two aircraft. [00:23:30] in the big formation like that, we got too close together, missile went between us as it should have, but it hit both aircraft . And on impact the aircraft pitched down, began to accelerate, begin to burn
My navigator Lieutenant Patterson said, let's eject,
So we held a little conference - very brief I might add.
We were about 500 [00:24:00] knots because we had no control of the aircraft. it forced us to eject.
Decided to ride the aircraft about another minute to reach the mountain range, which we did,.
If we go together, our seats collide and we're propelled about 200 feet above a near supersonic aircraft.
He ejects I must, wait one second.
And he landed on one side of the mountain. I landed on the far side and, uh, he's still, [00:24:30] missing from that mission. Was alive on the ground for three days and just disappeared. Even though he landed about a half mile from where I was,
Well, that was about 10 o'clock in the morning. I went through the day and then through the night and the next morning they came in.
That first light made contact, and I said, when are the Jolly Greens coming? They said, uh, about 45 minutes they will be here. So I took [00:25:00] my parachute that I'd hidden overnight, ]]
But those 45 minutes would turn into six years.
When Red was flying combat missions primarily for Operation Rolling Thunder in 1967 , President Johnson was tired.
He was struggling to advance America's position in the Vietnam War,
[00:25:30] and certainly getting our men out seemed like a far away goal.
He would announce his resignation less than a year later.
[ Oh, I'm just kind of broken up. I'm aching all over. I got a headache. I'm my damn bones, uh, hips hurting me and I just, uh, I'm just worn out.
[00:25:59] Tyler McCusker: but for our [00:26:00] naval aviators and the other men at war,
resigning wasn't an option. .
All my missions were over North Vietnam, and I flew 80 missions successfully had, uh, probably another three or four to go coming home after a year of combat. And, uh, was shot down on my 81st.[00:26:30]
You heard that right. He only had four missions to go. Four more breakfasts with his squadron.
Four more bombing missions over hostile waters with his best friend and wingman [00:27:00] Kelly Patterson.
In fact, red. Wrote a letter to Dorothy and his family saying he was gonna dock in Japan. And he'd be home
80 successful missions doing the impossible almost every time flying into North Vietnam. Landing . Back on the aircraft carrier safely and in the most difficult conditions.
[00:27:30] Unlike our first hero Everett, who flew only two missions before being captured.
Red flew almost seven dozen.
So after 900 hours in the air 80 missions flown
Red's mind. Was understandably on his wife, his kids,
I was not prepared to be a prisoner of war
I felt the possibility of being killed was fairly, fairly high. But [00:28:00] being in prisoner of war, I felt was very small. And, uh, I didn't really concern myself with that until I was floating down into the parachute.
Red, probably would've been glad to land in the water like Everett. Instead, he landed in a tree canopy 40 feet above the jungle floor[00:28:30]
while trying to untangle himself from the parachute. That just saved his life.
He fell. 40 feet of gravity's force, crushed two of his vertebrae.
I was having a hard time getting around. I knew I had a pretty severe injury to the back, but I did mention to the aircraft because I wanted to be rescued. And I told 'em that I was okay. Uh and they told me, uh, that Jolly Greens would be there shortly.
Well, that was about 10 o'clock in the morning. I went through the day and then through the night and the next morning they came [00:29:30] in.
That first light made contact, and I said, when are the Jolly Greens coming? They said, uh, about 45 minutes they will be here. So I took my parachute that I'd hidden overnight,
spread it so they could see it.
Seven hours later, the enemy came.
I heard a, a couple bullets whiz by, and, uh I had a pistol myself, but I didn't bother to shoot because there were about 10 of them and one of me
. [00:30:00] There were a couple of militia and, and six or eight other people
several of 'em were barefooted, uh, bloody feet. All types of dress, but they had been looking for me for the full 25 hours before they found me.
It was about 10 o'clock in the morning when I got captured. 26 hours after shoot down.
I could, uh, walk with a lot of pain, but they, uh, had to help me and we, they loaded me on a large truck with a 50 gallon, uh, can of gasoline in it.
I was in the back and every time we ran over a bump, the, the gasoline would spill out on me.
In route to Hanoi, which took me two days, they stopped me at two different army bases to rally the people, the Vietnamese people with [00:31:00] this captured us pilot.
the crowds were very angry because we had bombed their country that day.
And the closer we got to Hanoi, the, the more angry they were.
They gave each one of 'em, uh, a lick at us. They could hit us, they could throw a rock at us or whatever. And it was pretty frightening because they were. angry we experienced that twice.
after being shot down, it was kind of a relief to go [00:31:30] into the Hanoi Hilton because I had a lot of friends that were there before me, and I felt that I would see them.
At least there was more safety there than there was among the angry crowds.
The Hoa-Lo Prison was built in Hanoi by the French in the late 19th century when Vietnam was still part of French, Indochina. [00:32:00] The name commonly translates to fiery furnace or even Hell's Hole. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners vying for independence who were often subject to torture and execution.
It was located in the middle of a literal capital city near Hanoi's, French. Instead of the middle of some barren field, far from civilization, like other prisons just [00:32:30] outside their cell walls, prisoners would've been able to hear all the noise of a bustling metropolis, a taunting reminder of what they couldn't have.
Because of its city centered location, it was sarcastically nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by the American POWs in reference to the well-known Hilton hotel chain.
Most of the men who were shot down over North Vietnam and and prison there in the Hanoi Hilton were aviators. They were [00:33:00] officers and, you know, they generally had their missions and their missions were I guess much more sterile than the the patrols that were going out in South Vietnam. A more mature mindset, because they were all, you know, basically all over 23 when they got shot down, and, and most of 'em were probably, you know, later twenties and thirties when they got shot down
they were also mentally, physically more, more mature.
And so there's a very low incidents of P T S D [00:33:30] among these aviators who went through a lot of trauma there in Han. . I think part of that has to do with the fact that they were older and their brains were actually more mature
Within a two week period of my shootdown, there were, 21 pilots shot down and taken to prison, taken to Hanoi, and only 11 of us came home.
So the odds aren't very good.
Duty and honor, courage and commitment. were terms that very much apply to the POWs.[00:34:00]
They were doing it for their brothers in arms. And their loyalty for some might have been more to the guys in their unit than it was to Uncle Sam. They may not have agreed with the war, but they were there and I think they had a tremendous sense of bravery, courage, and duty. And they, they did their duty under very difficult circumstances.
Now you're dealing primarily with the present. Here I was, uh, serious injuries in a new environment. and they path throw you in little solitaire room right by [00:34:30] yourself and within a day they start the torture.
This is something we joke about today. He says, as we were walking down and one thing I remember him saying as we were walking, he says, looked at me, he says, Michael, I want you to take care of the family while I'm gone. That was pretty heavy stuff then all of a sudden he's out of the picture And, uh, uhoh now what?
I'll tell you something like that really makes you grow up quick, lot, lot quicker
When I became a Navy captain, he [00:35:00] pinned his eagles on me at my, uh, promotion ceremony. And he got up there and he says, okay, young man, you're now a captain, but I am still _the_ captain.
I said, Yes, sir.