Hector McDaniel graduated from Rochelle High School in 1938. In 1939, he was an apprentice seaman. In three and a half years he was a Chief Petty Officer. He was also the first Rochelle native to receive his Navy Wings.
From there, Hector set upon a military career that reads more like a movie script than history. Well it is history, an amazing history of a small town American who showed us all what it is to be a hero.
Hector took his wings and went to war. In Guadalcanal, New Georgia Islands, Solomon Islands and throughout the Central Pacific Hector showed the Japanese that he had come not only to fight, but to win.
After earning his wings, Hector took to the air, flying scouting and patrol missions in a Catalina PBY. The PBY was an amphibious patrol bomber with a 10 member crew. McDaniel served as co-pilot. Initially, Hector served in the central pacific and later moved to the Solomons to co-pilot a B24 bomber.
His outfit, VB101, was the first Navy squadron to fly the B24 Liberator. By 1944, Hector had more than 700 hours of combat flight. He spent his days locating and harassing enemy ships and airfields. It was in 1944 that Hector raised the bar and marked himself as a true warrior, and recognized hero. Back in a PBY and flying scouting and patrol missions around the Philippine Islands.
“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Junior Grade (Ensign) Hector Singleton McDaniel, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Co-pilot of a Navy PBY Patrol Plane in Patrol-Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED ONE (VPB-101), in action against enemy Japanese during an armed reconnaissance mission over Puerto Princessa and the surrounding areas in the Philippine Islands on 19 October 1944. Boldly sweeping over a concentrated area in a series of devastating runs, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, McDaniel contributed materially to the sinking of two cargo vessels and the destruction of ten hostile planes on an enemy airstrip despite a deadly barrage of anti-aircraft fire.”
Destroying two ships and 10 aircraft is impressive, but it takes more to earn the second highest award for bravery that the Navy awards.
“Then, in a second attack, he aided in the destruction of three seaplanes and the damaging of three others before his own plane sustained severe damage which made necessary a dangerous crash landing at sea.”
To fly into heavy enemy fire once was brave, but they returned for a second strike disabling three more enemy aircraft. Then in a heavily-damaged plane of their own, the PBY crew broke off and headed for their home base. They did not make it. The plane crash landed in the sea.
“With his pilot and three crewmen seriously injured in the landing, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, McDaniel rescued them from the water and got them ashore”.
After getting four injured crew members to shore, the battle was not over. They had come ashore on a Japanese-controlled island. The crew of the PBY hid from the enemy. At one time a Japanese bomber crashed near their hiding spot.
The Navy men ensured that the Japanese crew of 14 was eliminated and secured all edibles from the plane. With this little bit of rice, fish and candy mints added to their supply of coconuts, the Americans survived for two months in enemy territory. On the night of Oct. 27, Hector and another crew member slipped off the island on a crudely made raft and took to the open sea.
They made their way to another island and reached Filipino Guerillas. On Dec. 2 the remaining crew members were rescued.
“He was largely instrumental in obtaining aid from the Philippine Guerillas, thereby assisting in saving the lives of his six comrades. His airmanship, exceptional courage and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
The Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart, and Gold Star (second Purple Heart). Hector McDaniel was awarded each for his amazing display of courage.
Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilman.