Red McDaniel was born in 1931 in Kinston, North Carolina. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on March 16, 1955, was commissioned an Ensign on August 19, 1955, and was designated a Naval Aviator at Corpus Christi, Texas, in October 1956. After completing advanced training at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, Ens McDaniel flew the A-1 Skyraider with VA-65 at NAS Oceana, Virginia, from October 1956 to December 1960, and then with VA-42 at NAS Oceana from December 1961 to March 1963. Following Carrier Air Traffic Control (CATC) School at NATTC Glynco, Georgia, LT McDaniel served as Assistant CATC aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV-62) from September 1963 to May 1965. His next assignment was as an A-6 Intruder pilot with VA-35 at NAS Oceana, from May 1965 to November 1966, and then deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) from November 1966 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on May 19, 1967. After spending 2,117 days in captivity, CDR McDaniel was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, and then served with Medium Attack Wing ONE at NAS Oceana from July 1973 to April 1974. His next assignment was as a Joint Warfare Plans Officer on the staff of the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, from May to November 1974, followed by ship command training before taking command of the combat stores ship USS Niagara Falls (AFS-3) in July 1975. Capt McDaniel next attended Senior Officers Management Training at Arco, Idaho, from November 1976 to April 1977, and then served as Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CVT-16) from May 1977 to November 1978. His final assignment was as Director of the Navy/Marine Corps Liaison Office with the U.S. House of Representatives from December 1978 until his retirement from the Navy on January 25, 1982. After retiring from the Navy, Red McDaniel founded the American Defense Institute and served as its President until his retirement in 1999.
His Navy Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism as a Prisoner of War (POW) in North Vietnam from 14 June to 29 June 1969. Due to an unsuccessful escape attempt by two of his fellow prisoners, his captors launched a vicious round of torture to single out the senior POW's who were to blame for the breakout. During these torture sessions a confession led to exposing him as the communications link between the senior ranking officer of the main prisoner camp and the adjacent annex detachment. He accepted the responsibility for the escape and fabricated a story of his own planned escape. After interrogation, the enemy severely tortured him in their attempt to obtain information about the organization and policies of the American POW's in the camp. Under the most adverse conditions, he heroically resisted these cruelties and never divulged the information demanded by the North Vietnamese. His exemplary courage, maximum resistance, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.