Author details region’s rich military history

She always possessed a natural curiosity. When Chimacum’s Nancy McDaniel was stationed in the Air Force, whether it was in the United States or abroad, she and her husband, retired fighter pilot Glenn L. Davis, traveled to locations that were rich in military history. Many of those stories were chronicled in details by others. But when McDaniel returned to the Northwest after she retired in 1997 from Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, she found few details when it came to military history in Washington state.
McDaniel saw a void.
“I always enjoyed kind of the history of the state,” she said, who was raised in Chimacum and earned her bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Puget Sound. “When I was a kid, we would head over in a camper or truck to Fort Simcoe in eastern Washington. We always would hit the historical sites.”
McDaniel, 60, then embarked on a decade-long project dedicated toward research before publishing “A Sound Defense,” which examines military sites, lighthouses and memorials of Puget Sound in her 340-page book that was printed last year. The book is divided into a dozen chapters with each focusing on a specific county. McDaniel said she felt that was the best way to keep the book interesting to both “the military and historical person,” which is her primary clientele for this project.
Unlike her childhood sightseeing adventures, McDaniel drove throughout the Puget Sound region with a purpose. She interviewed countless subjects, who often referred her to others that possessed historical photos. McDaniel said she gathered enough information to write “volumes” on each county’s military history, but had to cull much of that information to keep the book coherent and concise.
She said perhaps the most painstaking process was finalizing several maps in the book.
“I guess it’s like birthing a baby,” she said, referring to finally seeing the finished product. “I never birthed one, but I guess it’s kind of like that.”
Some of that process unveiled women’s history. McDaniel chronicled the Mount Rainier Ordance Depot, which served Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, as part of her Pierce County chapter. As McDaniel detailed, MROD worked on nearly 1,000 vehicles per week as workers “replaced parts, cleaned engines, replaced belts, and reassembled them for deployment.”
That opened opportunities for young women when Secretary of War Henry L. Stinson asked in September 1942 that the number of women working in support of defense industries double. Clover Park High School in Lakewood became one of the first to respond, McDaniel noted, when it established a women’s mechanic-training program. She stated that eight-week program “culminated in students taking a basket filled with vehicle parts and assembling an engine.”
Those students then were given a key to start the engine. McDaniel said if they were successful — and 99 percent were — they were given a job on the assembly line at $1.50 per hour. McDaniel said she believes that is when the public’s view of American women as June Cleaver, the fictional homemaker from “Leave it to Beaver,” began “to fade a bit.”
“They were repairing everything from Jeeps to building bombs,” she said. “It kind of changed the world as far as women in the workplace.”
McDaniel said that is one of the more popular stories she shares during her speaking engagements. Since the book was published, she said she shares some of those stories, ones from her previous book, “The Snohomish Tribe of Indians — Our Heritage, Our People,” which was printed in 2004, and her own career as a Medical Service Corps Officer to groups.
“There was a whole fabric that was built out here and someone needs to talk about it,” McDaniel said. “It might as well be me.”
McDaniel has an array of interests. While she was stationed in Texas, she and her husband ran race horses. She also dabbles in artwork that ranges from abstract to nature.
But her thoughts never stray too far from the military. Both McDaniel and her husband remain active in the American Legion and still wear their uniforms when they visit Canada for an annual event hosted by the 49th Marines.
In the meantime, McDaniel will continue to share stories and hopes to sell more of the 1,000 books that were printed. She said about half have been purchased.
“It’s history and that history is going to be good again next year,” she said. “It’s not like an apple where you’ve got to sell it when it’s ripe.”
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