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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Good to the Corps

July 25, 2008

"... I could always be a civilian, but I couldn't always be a Marine."

On November 10, 2008, the United States Marine Corps will celebrate its 233rd birthday. For Col. Gene McDaniel, the day will mark his 53rd birthday celebration with the Corps - quite an accomplishment for someone who never intended to be a career military man.

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The Profile in Excellence award is given by the OBU Alumni Association to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, Profile In Excellence recipients are featured in OBU Magazine.

"... I could always be a civilian, but I couldn't always be a Marine."

On November 10, 2008, the United States Marine Corps will celebrate its 233rd birthday. For Col. Gene McDaniel, the day will mark his 53rd birthday celebration with the Corps -- quite an accomplishment for someone who never intended to be a career military man.

McDaniel grew up in western Kansas, where he spent summers working in the oil fields. His parents wanted him to follow in his sister's footsteps and attend OBU. McDaniel was more inclined to work. However, he agreed to try life on Bison Hill for one year.

He stayed for four years, and graduated in 1955 with a degree in business management.

"When I think of integrity, professionalism and character, I am reminded of Dr. Warren Angell, Dr. John W. Raley and, in particular, Dr. James Ralph Scales," McDaniel said. "Dr. Scales taught a government class, and I thought he was the best of the professors I had. He had a photographic memory, and he would close his eyes and take us back 300 years. He made government come to life.

"Many other professors and coaches added to the sense of what mattered: loyalty, perseverance and the art of living an honorable life."

McDaniel commenced his time at OBU just as the Korean War was ending. During one sunny, pleasant April day in 1954, he and a buddy from campus decided they would go to Oklahoma City and join the Air Force. McDaniel passed the initial entrance requirements and was set to report in the fall. When he returned to campus, the first person he recalls seeing was Bonnie Sue Horner. The two soon began dating, and McDaniel cancelled his Air Force plans, choosing to graduate instead. The couple was married the day following graduation and eventually had three children: Michael, William and Piper Beth.

Following a two-day honeymoon, the newlyweds relocated to Salem, Ill., where McDaniel worked as a petroleum engineer trainee for Texaco. Soon afterward, however, his mother called and told him his name was at the top of the military draft list. McDaniel drove to St. Louis, perused the military options of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines - and was taken in by the sharp appearance of the Corps.

"So I left home as a civilian and came back as a Marine," he recalled. "I decided I could always be a civilian, but I couldn't always be a Marine."

McDaniel applied for Officers Candidate School, and thus began his life as a military leader.

"My unique and demanding career included combat and strong leadership positions," he said. "I was exposed to a great number and variety of people who strengthened and influenced me."

Early in his career, McDaniel served as a gunnery instructor at the U.S. Army Artillery and Missile School at Fort Sill. More training followed at the Amphibious Warfare School at Quantico, Va., and the Naval Gunfire Support Training Course at Coronado, Calif.

Then the Corps took the small-town Kansas native to a combat assignment in Vietnam where he earned the Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor, a Combat Action Ribbon and a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star. McDaniel earned three Legion of Merit decorations - one of the highest non-combat awards given -- an Army Commendation Ribbon and other prestigious awards.

During a tour in Nashville, he attended graduate school at Vanderbilt University on his own time. The Marine Corps soon sent him to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., to complete his graduate studies in financial management. His "required service" following graduation landed him in Hawaii, where Bonnie completed her training for a bachelor's degree in music education at Chaminade University of Honolulu.

While in Hawaii, the McDaniel's son, Michael, finished high school at Hawaii Baptist Academy, where Bonnie worked. He and four other seniors from the school chose to cross the miles and attend OBU.

"We felt very comfortable with that, having gone to OBU and knowing the types of students and professors who would be there with Michael," McDaniel said.

Other highlights of McDaniel's career included serving as commander of a battalion on Okinawa; deputy comptroller of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, based in Hawaii; and assistant chief of staff, comptroller, of the First Marine Brigade in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

McDaniel was selected to attend the National War College in Washington, D.C., whose graduates are known to greatly influence national and foreign policy. Only 10 Marines are chosen to attend the college each year. Next came a command in Atlanta with the responsibility for all recruiting in the Southeast. During this time, Michael graduated OBU, and Piper Beth entered Wake Forest University, where Dr. Scales served as president. At a new-student reception, McDaniel encountered his former professor, who remembered him.

"It was amazing to me that he remembered me," McDaniel said. Scales apparently recalled the former OBU student for being well-dressed and well-groomed during his days on Bison Hill.

Next the Corps assigned McDaniel as the director of the division of English and history at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

"The Marine Corps was 'looking for a few good Naval Academy graduates,'" McDaniel said. "The mission was accomplished, which resulted in my move to Washington, Headquarters Marine Corps, where I was responsible for all Marine Corps recruiting. Without doubt, my assignments had been unique and had opened doors for a transition into a second career in the civilian world."

Following retirement from the military, McDaniel began work with the USAir marketing division, opening sales offices in San Antonio, Texas; Atlanta; and Tallahassee, Fla. After 11 years, McDaniel issued himself a set of orders for Valdosta, Ga., where today he enjoys his favorite activities: golf, reading and physical fitness. The couple remains involved with their local church, and with airline retirement they can travel at no cost. One weekend, they flew to Denver to see the area; another time they flew to Montreal for dinner. Occasionally they get back to Bison Hill.

"We love OBU," McDaniel said. "You can get so much more out of going to a small school -- you seem to get lost in the shuffle at the bigger schools."

Years after his own graduation, despite a career that has taken him around the world, it's the one-on-one connections he made at OBU that rank his alma mater high in the esteem of the decorated colonel.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.