This article is the 19th in a series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, “Young adults want to know that it’s possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it.” It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The missile ripped the left wing off of Red McDaniel’s A-6 Intruder. He waited for his navigator to punch out first and then he followed—but as he dropped into a Vietnamese jungle, his parachute became tangled in a tree. When a branch broke, Red fell 40 feet to the ground, crushing two vertebrae.
Red experienced all of this in three minutes. His wife, Dorothy, would wait three years to know whether he was dead or alive.
Red first met Dorothy in 1950 on the front steps of First Baptist Church in Buies Creek, N.C. They dated for six years and then married. As a Navy pilot, Red flew 81 missions in nine months over Vietnam before being shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese in May 1967.
At that time the McDaniels had a 4-year-old daughter and two boys, ages 9 and 7. The boys were crushed when they learned their dad had been captured. The Navy assured them that he would be rescued soon, but he wasn’t. He endured six years of brutal torture at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
Dorothy had a friend whose husband was also serving in Vietnam. “I can’t do this anymore,” her friend told her. “I’ve invited a man to come live with us, and I know you won’t understand.”
Now 79, Dorothy looped her arm around her husband’s as she remembered how hard the separation was on her: “I couldn’t even remember what he looked like. It was not my love feelings that kept me hanging in there.”
The key, Red said, is that “we went into marriage with a real commitment. We had that hardship, but she hung in there, and that made my commitment all the stronger.”
The McDaniels eventually wrote about what they had experienced and learned in two books, Scars & Stripes and After the Hero’s Welcome.
At age 81, Red walks and speaks with the confidence of a younger and stronger man, but he sits down and rises up slowly. The torture caused neuropathy that still numbs his hands and feet. His limbs aren’t much use until after he swims 40 minutes every morning, but he quoted John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
That promise is the reason for the McDaniels’ perspective on suffering: “It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain.”