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Memories of a Saugus hero rekindled

Walter Daniels name on the footlocker-2
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Major Daniels’ family overjoyed after receiving military footlocker discovered by collector in Georgia

  Cloud Nine hovered over Pleasant Street, Saugus, Mass., on the afternoon of February 7, 2023, when a UPS truck delivered a long-forgotten World War II footlocker belonging to the late Major Walter Daniels. Daughter Susan Daniels Miller and granddaughter Courtney Whitehurst were waiting at the front door, full of anticipation, excitement and a little bit of disbelief. Maisie, the beloved family pet, seemed to be somehow caught up in the middle of the magical moment as well!

  It wasn’t long before family members, friends and neighbors stopped by throughout the afternoon and evening to see and touch the family treasure firsthand. Many expressed their appreciation to The Saugus Advocate, Editor Mark E. Vogler and Wayne Riley for all their efforts in bringing a part of their beloved father home.

  Susan and her family members are still on Cloud Nine and will be for quite a while, and although I cannot actually explain it, I truly believe that Major Daniels and his P-40 plane had something to do with that cloud overhead on Pleasant Street.

  Riley, a history buff and collector who lives in Jasper, Ga., discovered the khaki green wooden trunk in a thrift store in his town earlier this year and got excited when he realized it was used during World War II. “I could see the U.S. on the top cover, and I knew immediately this was military,” Riley told The Saugus Advocate in a telephone interview last week.

  “Then when I saw it was made in World War II, I said to myself. ‘I got to have this.’ Then when I took it home, I noticed the name on the back. So, I googled ‘Walter Daniels’ and Janice’s [Jarosz] stories popped up on the computer screen. And that’s what got me really intrigued,” he said.

  Longtime Saugus writer and lifelong town resident Janice K. Jarosz had written a two-part series of articles titled “Walter Daniels – A quiet hero” back in 2019 which highlighted Daniels’ heroics with the Flying Tigers. (See related story.)

  “I loved it just for myself. It would have been a neat piece to have,” Riley said.

  “But when I saw the history behind the person who once used it and knowing he was a fighter pilot, I was thinking it had to go back to the family. I wanted to get the piece reunited with a member of the family. If it weren’t for Janice’s articles, I wouldn’t know where to go with this,” he said.

  From the articles he had read, Riley knew Daniels was from Saugus and might possibly have relatives still living in town. Riley contacted Jim Mitchell, who is publisher of Advocate Newspapers, Inc., which owns four newspapers, including The Saugus Advocate. “Didn’t know if he has family still in your area,” Riley said in the message he left.

  “Any help would be appreciated,” he said.

  Publisher Mitchell referred the message to The Saugus Advocate, which was able to locate an immediate family member – Daniels’ daughter, Susan Miller. The Saugus Advocate acted as an intermediary, putting Miller in touch with Riley. Riley went ahead and shipped the footlocker with the anticipated arrival of last Friday (Feb. 3).

  Riley didn’t serve in the military, but he says he’s very patriotic. His late father, Glenn Riley, was a career military man, serving as a top combat sergeant with the U.S. Army in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

  I’m so gratified that he [Riley] did this research and did all of his homework. It’s just incredible to be getting this after all these years,” Miller said.

  According to fellow pilots, Walter Daniels was one of the bravest. He was an expert navigator in the cockpit, using the strength of the P-40 diving speed and rugged construction to overcome the maneuverability of the Zeros and Oscars.

  Taught by Brig. General Chennault, the Flying Tigers were instructed to keep up their speed and never try to overturn a Japanese fighter. If one attempted to evade with a right turn, the pilots were taught to keep diving, then climb up to attack again. The Flying Tigers earned their reputation for being fearless and deadly.

  In his military career, Daniels earned two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. Daniels passed away on Dec. 10, 1977, at Lynn Hospital and was buried alongside his son at Riverside Cemetery in Saugus.

Walter Daniels name on the footlocker-2
Walter Daniels’ name on the footlocker (Photo Courtesy to The Saugus Advocate by Wayne Riley)
Major Walter Daniels in his flight gear-2
Major Walter Daniels in his flight gear (Photo Courtesy to The Saugus Advocate by Edward Moore)

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