A Georgia history buff shipped the military footlocker once owned by World War II hero Walter Daniels to Saugus
Any day now, Susan Miller should be receiving an 81-year-old military footlocker that bears the name of her late father, Major Walter Joseph Daniels – a fighter pilot for the famous Flying Tigers during World War II.
Wayne Riley, a history buff and collector who lives in Jasper, Ga., discovered the khaki green wooden trunk in a thrift store in his town 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 this 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.
Connecting with Daniels’ family
The Advocate Newspapers 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.
“How special it was for her and her family, that after all these years, something like this turned up,” Riley said.
“I’m just glad that we were able to get in touch with a member of the family and were able to connect. Susan called one afternoon, and she seemed real excited and said the rest of the family was looking forward to getting it,” he said.
Riley said he went ahead and shipped the footlocker with anticipated arrival of today (Friday, Feb. 3).
Riley didn’t serve in the military, but says he’s very patriotic. His late father was a career military man, serving with the U.S. Army in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
One mystery that Riley said he would have loved to solve is how a military footlocker used by a pilot in Texas wound up in Georgia. Also, he wonders how many hands touched the footlocker over the years.
“I’m pretty excited and can’t wait for it to get here,” Miller said. “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,” she said. “We had an interesting conversation. He learned that there was another name on the footlocker and that it was common for footlockers to be given to other people.”
“Like part of Walter Daniels coming home,”
Janice Jarosz, who wrote the articles that caught Riley’s attention on the Internet, said she was happy to learn that the footlocker was headed to Saugus. “It’s like a part of Walter Daniels coming home,” Jarosz said. “It represents him, and it’s so wonderful for something like this to be happening,” she said.
Jarosz has fond memories of as a 15-year-old girl waiting on customers at the old Godfried’s Bakery. “He looked like he just stepped out of a magazine,” Jarosz recalled. “He had a full length coat and a black hat. He was always dapper, always polite, always nice and always a gentleman,” she said. “I knew he was a big hero. He was very popular in town. He worked for the town as a building inspector.”
One former Saugus resident recalled a favorite Walter Daniels story from his teenage days. “I met Mr. Daniels when I was 14 while I was going to Essex Agricultural School,” George Brown recalled in a 2017 interview with The Saugus Advocate.
“I wanted to build a greenhouse on the side of my father’s garage. My father told me I would need a building permit. I walked into his office, big as life, and I said, ‘Mr. Daniels, I need a building permit.’ He said to me, ‘You tell your dad to go ahead and build it and if he has any problems, to call me,’” Brown said.
“Mr. Daniels was an uncle of a friend of mine. The Daniels were a large family here in Saugus. I didn’t learn he was in the Flying Tigers until a few years ago,” he said.
Saluting a Saugus flyboy
Daniels and his time with the Flying Tigers were featured prominently in the Saugus Historical Society 2018 Calendar, which Brown had prepared.
Long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – which officially drew the U.S. into World War II – Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for help. The U.S. answered that request with 100 pilots and 300 ground crew personnel, according to the calendar summary authored by Brown. “The Flying Tigers came into being because the Japanese were invading China and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Chinese,” Brown told The Saugus Advocate.
“People who know nothing about the Flying Tigers have no idea how close we came to losing the war. The Flying Tigers were so famous there was a movie named after them, starring John Wayne,” he said.
Two photos of Daniels – one of them of him in uniform and the other in his flight gear – flanked a photo of his badly shot-up aircraft after it crash-landed. The photos were provided courtesy of Edward Moore.
Daniels received the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart for his volunteer service.
“In spite of its damage he was able to get it back safely to his home base and made it out okay,” Brown wrote of Daniels’ damaged aircraft.
Brown also noted some interesting trivia about the origin of the plane’s name, Lucy Bowels. “He suffered from dysentery much of the time he served in Asia, and he jokingly named his plane accordingly,” Brown wrote.
Following his discharge in 1945, Daniels became a Metropolitan District Commission police officer and later served as a Major in the Air Force Reserve, according to the calendar story.