U.S. Navy Captain Eugene “Red” McDaniel (Retired) holds the Living Legends of Alexandria portrait presented to him March 26 at Station 24 of the American Legion in recognition of National Veterans Day of the Vietnam War. Presenting the portrait to McDaniel, a prisoner of war for six years in Vietnam, were, at right, LLA board officers Gayle Reuter and Pat Miller.
“You are the real heroes,” U.S. Navy Captain Eugene “Red” McDaniel (retired) said while addressing dozens of Vietnam veterans March 26 at American Legion Station 24 in Old town. “It was unimaginable how you were treated by our nation. The moment I came back, I was welcomed by our government and treated like a hero. But I’m not a hero. I’m a survivor.
McDaniel was the guest speaker in honor of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, commemorated March 29 in recognition of the day in 1973 the last American troops left Vietnam. McDaniel had been released from captivity three weeks earlier, on March 4, 1973, after six years as a prisoner of war in the notorious Hoa Lo prison, known as the Hanoi Hilton.
McDaniel, now 90, has previously been described by Time Magazine as one of Vietnam’s most brutalized POWs. On May 19, 1967, the Top Gun pilot was captured when his A-6 Intruder plane was shot down during his 81st combat mission in North Vietnam.
For his service to his country and his home community of Alexandria, McDaniel was named a Living Legend of Alexandria in 2019. Following his remarks, Living Legend Board Officers Gayle Reuter and Pat Miller have presented McDaniel with his official Living Legends portrait which had been hung. Town hall.
“He may say otherwise, but Captain McDaniel is a real hero,” Reuters said. “I come from a military family and it’s a real honor to be here today to honor him and thank all the veterans who have served our country.”
More than two dozen Vietnam veterans attended the event. A representative of the Daughters of the American Revolution presented each veteran with a certificate of appreciation for their service along with the Vietnam Department of Defense Veterans Commemorative Lapel Pin.
Among those present was the former vice mayor of Alexandria, Bill Cleveland, who served in the US military in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
“I graduated from high school in 1968 and three days later was drafted into the military,” said Cleveland, 73. “In December of that year, I was in Vietnam.”
Cleveland describes each day of his Vietnam tour as “the 4th of July”.
“Every day we were getting bombarded,” Cleveland said. “Every night we saw tracers. We were hit about three times in one day and had to survive in our bunkers. The first week I was there, I cried every day.
Cleveland, a retired Capitol police officer, recalled seeing Bob Hope and James Brown in Vietnam, but otherwise “there was constant bombing and bagging and tagging of those who hadn’t survived.”
Former Commanding Officer of Post 24, Doug Gurka, was an Army staff sergeant who arrived in Vietnam in the spring of 1967. He was assigned to the counterintelligence section of the 179th Military Intelligence Detachment, 199th Brigade light infantry.
“At that time, the 199th was tasked with eliminating the enemy from the province surrounding Saigon and stopping infiltrations from Cambodia,” Gurka recalled. “After a few months, we were reassigned to the brigade’s main base adjacent to Ho Nai village. It was here around 2am on January 31, 1968 that we came under a major attack by large enemy units. The Tet Offensive had begun.
After his tour of duty ended, Gurka was assigned to an intelligence unit at the Pentagon and returned to the United States in May 1968 at the height of anti-war sentiment.
“It was really daunting to go back to that environment,” Gurka said. “Today people appreciate more what we went through in those days, but it was difficult.”
During the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 Americans were killed and several thousand more wounded, wounded, or missing in action. Alexandria counts 68 among the killed or MIA.
“I know that in war people will get killed,” Gurka said. “But when it’s in vain, it’s the worst. Colin Powell said if you’re going to fight a war, go out there and win it decisively. This is still appropriate advice for today.