One of the most brutally tortured prisoners of the Vietnam War, Eugene "Red" McDaniel, reveals to Inside the Beltway that he watched through prison bars in Hanoi as a critically injured John McCain parachuted helplessly into Truc Bach Lake and almost drowned.
"I know it was him because we lost only one that day," says Mr. McDaniel, referring to the doomed A-4E Skyhawk piloted by the future Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
The date was Oct. 26, 1967, and just five months before, on May 19, Mr. McDaniel was flying his 81st combat mission aboard an A-6 Intruder when he, too, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The Navy pilot was listed as "missing in action" for three years until the Hanoi government acknowledged he was alive and being held as a prisoner of war. "They moved me 19 times within five prison camps," he says.
Mr. McDaniel would remain a POW for more than six years — "2,110 days, approximately," he counts — and upon his release in March 1973 he would earn two Purple Hearts for the wounds he received at the hands of his North Vietnamese torturers.
"I saw John's chute come down through the prison bars of what we called 'the Zoo,'" he says of Mr. McCain, who was dragged from the lake and savagely beaten.
Both men were scarred for life, yet the pair of pilots when freed continued to serve their country. Ironically, from 1979 to 1981, Mr. McDaniel was serving as the Navy/Marine Corps liaison to the House of Representatives while Mr. McCain was the liaison to the Senate.
Mr. McDaniel recalls his POW years in the book "Scars and Stripes." He retired from the Navy in 1982, but not until he had become commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington. He is the founding president of the American Defense Institute in Washington.
AMERICANS IN WARTIME
Distinguished guests experienced firsthand over the weekend what will be the only national museum to represent every U.S. military branch — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and their respective Reserves and National Guard units — and the battle theaters in which they fought: World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The National Museum of Americans in Wartime (www.nmaw.org) won't open its gates until November 2012, but as witnessed during open houses held Saturday and Sunday, the future 30-acre site in nearby Prince William County is already roaring to life.
"You can go as fast as you want, just don't hit anybody," quipped Allan D. Cors, chairman of the museum's board of trustees, before this columnist and other visitors climbed into the belly of an Army tank and, with expert instruction, maneuvered their way around a red-dirt track.
"My son loves this. He's never driven a go-cart, but he's driven a few tanks," noted the museum's president and CEO, G. Craig Stewart III.
When completed, the nonprofit museum and the veterans who will serve as its tour guides will showcase wartime experiences of countless men and women who served their country. They will do so via interpretive centers and theaters, a one-of-a-kind collection of more than 100 operational military vehicles (tanks, planes and helicopters), military air shows, walk-through replicas of battlefront scenes called "Landscapes of War," wartime re-enactments, an obstacle course, laser-firing range, jet fighter and nuclear aircraft carrier training simulators, and a reunion center for nearly 24 million living American veterans.
NMAW's board members include, among others, retired Marine Corps Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley; Charles S. Robb, a former Virginia governor and senator; and Blackwater USA CEO Erik Prince.
Last Thursday, we reported that pedestrians strolling along King Street in historic Alexandria were doing double-takes when passing beneath the brightly lit Old Town Theatre marquee displaying the pair of featured movies: "W" — "Body of Lies."
This week's features, wouldn't you know: "W" — "Pride and Glory."