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WW2 - CBI Theatre Pilot Walter G. Daniels

Discussion in 'World History' started by Lord Chambers, May 22, 2008.

  1. Lord Chambers

    Lord Chambers Emperor

    Nov 23, 2001
    What's that? You've never heard of Walter G. Daniels? He was an American pilot KIA in China in 1945. If you're curious I've written a document, part-biography/part-memorial about him for www.rshonor.org.

    Spoiler :
    First Lieutenant Walter G. Daniels
    Huge picture:
    Spoiler :

    "I would give anything to see you, but maybe my being here will help get this war over sooner, and that is what we are all surely hoping for." Affectionately referring to each other solely by “brother” and “sis,” the correspondence between First Lieutenant Walter G. Daniels and his sister Mary Hoffman demonstrates an especially close relationship, even in August 1943 while he underwent increasingly rigorous pilot training to serve a country at war.

    This war-time correspondence reveals the character and personality of Walter Daniels: amiable, easy-going, and dedicated to his family.

    “Sister, thanks for sending my flight certificate and fixing my bank account for me. You'll go to heaven for that.” He was always quick to express warm appreciation for the gifts and favors his sister provided.

    Frequently he made homesick inquiries about the family, “Has [the dog] had her puppies yet? I bet when they arrive it will be the biggest day in the Daniels family since I left for the army.”

    He often expressed fruitless wishes to witness his sister’s imminent wedding, “The outlook on my chances aren’t bright. One fellow tried to get overnight leave to return to Pittsburg to get married and the lieutenant in charge refused. So I don’t think I have much of a chance to get home to witness a wedding.”

    Amid these letters Walter Daniels wrote about his highs, “Sis, just 15 minutes ago I was made a platoon sergeant.” His lows, “We haven’t received any mail for about a week and everyone is getting so darn homesick. This damned place doesn’t help any either. You look to your right, to your left, in front of you, behind you and all you can see is blue drab barracks.” And like so many American service men his age, girls:

    “Enclosed is the last letter Duckie wrote to me. Every now and then she feels happy and this is the result…I am enclosing it so you can see how crazy she is sometimes. It is pretty cute though isn’t it?”

    “Joan, my other little honey bunches, out in Iowa, pulled a surprise on me the other day. She sent me a swell little sweater that she knit for me herself.”

    “…I called her up and now I have a date. The girl with the C ration book and car also holds her own when it comes to looks and personality. How about that sis? I am really making up for all of the time I lost in Florida.”

    Walter Daniels wasn’t always a lady killer. Born August 23, 1923, he spent many of his early years with the moniker “lard” due to his wider-than-average appearance. Despite this he was always smiling, joking, and spreading joy to others. When they were very little he sought to get revenge on his sister for cutting his hair, saying “someday I’m going to do something to you!” And he did do something—in her shoe--which still brings his sister to laughter over half a century later.

    By age 19 he had emerged as a handsome and well liked teenager with a desire to fly, but the opportunity World War 2 provided almost passed him up. His parents were never enthusiastic about his plans to join the Army Air Force, but these plans were never more in jeopardy than when he got his little finger caught in a neighbor’s door. The doctors at the hospital wanted to amputate the damaged digit so his mother took him to second doctor who sewed the tip back on; a fateful decision. Though intact, the new finger was stiff and the Army Air Force wouldn’t pass him. They sent him home with instructions to rub dog oil on it, which he did every night or whenever he thought of flying. The treatment worked and when he went back to the enlistment office and they allowed him to join.

    His training took him from Akron, Ohio to Santa Ana, California, and finally to La Junta, Colorado where he graduated. Despite attacks of vertigo he was successful in training wherever he went, scoring perfect marks on his flight tests, and earning promotions to platoon sergeant and later to First Lieutenant--perhaps due to the innate intelligence he modestly dismissed. He was also well liked by his peers. After the war many who served with him would write letters to his family expressing what a bright light he was in those dark days, always smiling, always laughing, always saying something interesting.

    "I think they are about the most beautiful things I have ever gazed upon. They will be especially so when I am able to look down and see them pinned on my chest."

    Upon receiving his flight wings Walter Daniels was assigned to the 21st Army Air Force Photo Reconnaissance Squad. Before leaving for China he told his sister he wanted to get a color camera: “I’ll probably be seeing a lot of interesting sites,” an understatement for sure. After visiting Agra, India and being photographed at the Taj Mahal he began his tour of duty in China. He enjoyed traveling around the world and seeing the unusual sites it offered. As a curious young man, flying in the China India Burma theatre of war was life’s biggest adventure yet.

    He flew the P-38 “Lightning,” one of WW2’s fastest planes, and loved it. For Walter Daniels, flying this plane in this war was the fulfillment of several years of training and yearning to fly. Truly, how many men called to fight war can ever say they are happy doing it? Yet his sister Mary Hoffman remembers “he thought he was in the right place at the right time, doing what he wanted to do.” And what he wanted to do was fly.

    His final act of service was a routine flight on February 2nd, (ground hog day) 1945 over Suining, China. After completing his aerial reconnaissance mission he attempted the long return to base. It is believed a strong cross wind must have thrown him off course. In a letter to Mary Hoffman one official said in treacherous terrain and stormy weather conditions even experienced fliers easily become lost. Far from base and out of fuel, Walter Daniels was instructed to bail out of his plane. Unfortunately the design of the P-38 was such that, in the words of the same official, “everybody agrees it’s pure luck to bail safely out of it.” And when he did--he was struck by the twin booms horizontal stabilizer, a feature relatively unique to P-38s.

    We cannot know exactly what came to pass that evening 63 years ago. We cannot know what thoughts were going through Walter Daniels’ mind as he tried to navigate back to base through the inky night. We cannot know whether he was thinking of solely his own survival or of his family, sister, and perhaps the wedding he never got to attend. "Just close your eyes as you walk down the aisle and make believe that is me, as best man, waiting down at the altar.” All we can know with certainty is that a bright, 21-year-old life was ended unjustly by a dark and stormy night.

    Initially the reports of his death contained conflicting place names and gave his sister hope he might still be alive; the whole affair just a mix-up. Within a month or two disbelief had subsided and the reality of the loss set in. The whole family was dealt a terrible blow. Already facing difficulties from the onset of blindness in Walter Daniels father, the unexpected loss of the family’s eldest boy put it into a tailspin. His mother was always a strong woman but the sudden death devastated her. Mary Hoffman explains how they fought to understand, “It was the worst time ever…. A natural death, sometimes you can understand, but a young death like that…when he just thought he was getting out of a plane…."

    Afterwards the family was so distraught they scarcely could find the strength to open up further correspondence from the government, fearing bad news. It wasn’t until years later they discovered they were entitled to death benefits and that Walter Daniels had been awarded the Purple Heart.

    Mary Hoffman often wonders what her brother would have been if he had survived just six months longer and seen the end of World War 2 on August 15th 1945. What would he look like, now in 2008? What would he have done with his life? Everyone who knew him remembered him as a good-looking, amiable young man brimming with potential. He was serious about Joan and thought that upon his return they might marry. He was also fascinated by flight. Mary Hoffman is confident he would have made a career out of planes. How would Walter G. Daniels have left his mark on this world?

    War intervened to cut his chance short. But before he died he contributed to the US-China Allied war effort and left indelible marks on the loving family and the sister who adored him. For these reasons he will never be forgotten.

    Now that you read all that, what criticisms do you have of the writing? Is it very readable? Is the sentimentality effective? What did you think while reading? And how would you improve it?

    Disclaimer: though this is the World History forum this document is not a pure work of history. Excuse the lack of NPOV. It aims to honor and remember the pilots and offer closure for the family.
    Remembering Shared Honor.

    Here's another pilot in case reading the stories of young pilots in WW2 are interesting to you.

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