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John McDaniel Retires As NSA Membership Chair

by John McDaniel (Cave Junction '57) |

I have been asked to chronicle the events that led up to my taking on the job of Membership Coordinator some sixteen years ago, and more importantly, what lead me to smokejumping and my 29-year career in the U.S. Navy as a Naval Aviator.

When I was in the eighth grade back in West Virginia, I became interested in forestry through my involvement in the Boy Scouts. I was further encouraged by my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Baughman, whose husband attended West Virginia University School of Forestry. He was killed in WWII but left all his books and papers. Mrs. Baughman, knowing of my interest in forestry, gave me those books, some of which I still have. Sometime thereafter, I read a book titled Hank Winton-Smokejumper. That did it! I resolved to apply when I was old enough and had some woods experience.

During my high school years (1951-1955), I was a member of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and was trained as a parachute rigger.

I was a Freshman at the West Virginia University School of Forestry in 1956. During that school year, I worked part-time for the West Virginia Conservation Commission fighting fires and planting trees and anything else to earn some money. That summer I was hired by the USFS on the Monongahela NF as a laborer. A lot of ax work and lots of time dodging rattlesnakes!

In my sophomore year, 1957, I applied to and was hired by the USFS Siskiyou NF Smokejumper Base at Cave Junction, Oregon. There began a love affair that I have kept to this day. My time on the Gobi taught me a lot, not only how to best fight fires but how to be a man. With Jim Allen (NCSB-46) in the lead, we were all over Oregon and Northern California and made many jumps. The next year was more of the same with plenty of fires and jumps into some very rugged terrain, not to mention some very tall trees, some of which I managed to find.

The third year was different, a whole lot different. Jim Allen called me at school and asked how soon I could get back to the Gobi. He had a special project on which he wanted to send me. After two finals, it was off to Cave Junction again with my interest running high. A quick three jumps and then load onto the Twin Beech with Red Scholtz and a flight to Baker, Oregon (now Baker City).

The job was to fly "bird dog" for a contractor spraying bugs in old WWII aircraft. There was a PBY, a DC-2 1⁄2 (that's a DC-3 wing and a DC-2 fuselage) and a TBM. We, that is the contract pilot and me in a Cessna 180, were to lead the spray planes into the area and then overfly the action in case they got into trouble. Should there be a crash, I was to parachute into the scene and render what help I could. How I was supposed to jump from the 180 with all my gear remains unknown. I guess I could, but thankfully I never had to. This was an all-summer event with infrequent returns to Cave Junction where Jim Allen was kind enough to give me a couple practice jumps. No fire jumps obviously, but I did get a lot of "stick time" in the 180. The contract pilot liked to doze.

College graduation came in January 1960 and, lo and behold, the USFS rehired me as a professional forester on the Siskiyou Powers Ranger Station. I was invited back to the Gobi to refresh just in case I would be needed to oversee any fires. Much to my disappointment, my Ranger would not let me jump saying that I would be no good to him if I got hurt (never did in three years of jumping). Thus, after about a year, I decided to follow a different career.

I had always wanted to fly, so I took the written and medical tests for the Navy, passed them, and was given a class date starting in six months at NAS Pensacola.
The following is a capsulated chronology of my 29 years flying for the US Navy: I arrived in Pensacola in the spring of 1961 for sixteen weeks of pre-flight training. Lots of PT and classroom work under the guidance of a US Marine. Then, finally a Commission in the USN.

Primary training at Saufley Field was a "weed out" for those not adapted. We flew the T-34 trainer for 16 weeks while attending ground school.

Off to Basic training at Whiting Field, Milton, Florida, in the T-28. This aircraft is a handful for a young pilot. At 1,425 hp, it's a goer. What followed was familiarization, basic instruments, radio instruments, formation, and air-to-air gunnery.

If one managed to get through this, it was off to Saufley Field again for Carrier Qualifications in the T-28C. What followed was a very intense training schedule. Once completed it was off to the Training Carrier (USS Antitum) for two touch and goes and six arrested landings. What can I say-it's a blast. Might even replace sex.
Following the carrier work, I was assigned to Advanced Training at Corpus Christi, Texas. Some people split off and went to jets, some to multiengine, and others with great flight grade (yes, me) got their choice. I chose single-engine attack, the AD-6 Skyraiders. There we did more instruments (got our instrument cards), formation, gunnery, air-to-ground bombing, and all-weather night flying.

In July 1962, I got my wings. I went through rather quickly. Primarily because of my past experiences and great instructors who figured I could handle an accelerated pace. I will always remember my primary instructor, LT George Nimela, who said, "You know how to fly-now I will teach you to fly the Navy way."

What followed was a one-year tour in Milton, Florida, as an instructor teaching formation flying. Lots of T-28 time.

My first fleet assignment was at NAS North Island, San Diego, flying the AD-5W, followed by two deployments to the western Pacific on the USS Bennington. It was then that I was selected for a regular commission.

The Vietnam War was smoldering, and I was needed at Alameda NAS, Oakland, California, to fly the AD-5Q. And so, I deployed to the Pacific on various attack carriers to provide Electronic Countermeasure coverage to the bombers.

It was while at Alameda, I met the Commanding Officer of an A-4 outfit that was created to fly cover to assets in Vietnam. He needed some help training his pilots in carrier work. I had become a qualified Landing Signal Officer, which he needed. If I could train his pilots, he would check me out in jets (A-4 Skyhawk).

Thus, I became a qualified jet pilot. When the Bureau of Naval Personnel learned of my qualifications, that was the end of my AD-5 flying, and I received orders to NAS Lemoore, California, to teach jet instruments. The Navy needed Light Attack jet pilots as the war dragged on. Losses were fairly high.

About a year, and lots of jet time, the Bureau of Naval Personnel learned of my Landing Signal Qualification (LSO) and, much to the chagrin of my CO, shipped me off to the Replacement Air Group. There I flew the A-4 and instructed day and night carrier landings. It was about this time that I had the opportunity to check out in other airwing aircraft. I flew the F-8 Crusader (supersonic fighter), the Twin Beech, and other twinengine aircraft.

Now I was in the light attack community where I wanted to be. How I pulled this off would not be possible in today's Navy, but it worked for me then. Soon I transitioned to the A-7 aircraft, which is just a fat A-4 with more fuel and bombcarrying capacity. An opening occurred in an A-7 squadron. I volunteered and was deployed to Vietnam for the third time (with a combat waiver as two tours were the limit). After the tour to Vietnam was over with, it was time for shore duty.

Capt. Jim Busey, CO of Attack Squadron 125 (VA-125), was having trouble with some pilots during the day/night carrier qualifications which led to some accidents. He wanted it fixed and asked me if I would return to the RAG (Replacement Air Group) to help put a stop to the accidents. It took a personal request from the CO to the Bureau to get me. I was viewed as having too much flight time.

Nevertheless, I got orders to VA-125 again. I have to say the accidents stopped after a few asses were kicked. After a successful tour, I was posted to the LATWING Staff as Safety Officer working for a wonderful man, ADM Bill Lawrence, who had been a POW in Hanoi for seven years. I received a big surprise in 1975 when I was notified that I had screened for a squadron command and would return to Kingsville, Texas, to take over an Advanced Training A-4 squadron.

Following two years in Kingsville, I received a call from The Bureau telling me my next assignment was "long and grey" as "Carrier Ships Company." The flying was over. My assignment was as Air Officer (Air Boss) on the nuclear carrier USS Eisenhower where I made two deployments and a full training cycle.

In the Spring of 1981, my orders were to the US Naval War College, Newport, Rode Island, for a one-year study and was selected to attend the NCC (Naval Command College) as the U.S. Navy's representative in an international class of senior officers from all over the world. It was a great year and I made many friends from all over the world. We graduated in June 1982.

New orders: I was assigned to Plans and Policy in the Pentagon. I spent two years in foreign travel and dealing with the Navy higher-ups. After that experience and dealing with the Washington bureaucracy, I decided to retire, which I did in June 1984. Thus ended 28 1/2 years of service.

In retirement my wife and I moved to Virginia. I got re-acquainted with the NSA and in June 2004. I attended the Missoula Reunion where I met Fred Cooper (NCSB-62) and volunteered my services. That's how I became the Membership Coordinator. We have made some changes on how we do business, but for the most part I haven't messed with the procedures that were originally established. We are some 1500 members strong, but we lose older jumpers every year and the younger guys don't show interest in joining.

Many thanks for your kind words and support over the years. Hope to see you at the next reunion.