Wesley K. “Danny” Daniels, a humble scratch golfer and proud World War II veteran who was captured by the enemy after being forced twice to bail out of a B-24 over Europe, died July 23 with congestive heart failure, his family said. He was 89.
The son of an assistant state architect, Mr. Daniels was born in 1924. He spent his entire life in Sacramento except to serve his country in war. After graduating from McClatchy High School early in 1943 to join the Army, he was commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to the 15th Air Force based in Italy.
He was a 20-year-old navigator aboard a Liberator bomber in 1945 when the plane developed mechanical trouble and ran out of fuel, forcing the crew to bail out over Germany. Although he parachuted behind Allied lines and returned safely to base, his parents at home in Curtis Park mistakenly received a telegraph reporting him missing in action.
Seventeen days later, his parents’ fears became real. On Feb. 22, 1945, Mr. Daniels was on his 26th mission when his B-24 was shot down over the Italian Alps. Captured and handed over to the Germans, he was moved to several prisoner-of-war camps as Allied troops advanced across Germany in the final weeks of war.
Boils erupted over his body while he marched 100 miles over 12 days and rode in railroad boxcars so crowded with POWs that no one could sit. He scrambled for cover as U.S. planes strafed the Germans and their captives on open roads as prisoners were shuttled among camps ahead of advancing Allied troops. After more than five weeks on the move, he was imprisoned at a POW camp near Moosburg until Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army liberated the captives on April 29, 1945, according to family history written by his father.
“My dad was very proud of his service, but he never talked about it,” his son Ed said. “We didn’t know any of the details until after he died, when we found four pages that my grandfather wrote about it.”
Awarded the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Mr. Daniels returned home with aspirations of family and career. He graduated from Sacramento Junior College and earned a business degree from Sacramento State College. The Sacramento Bee reported in 1949 that he was one of two students who were the first to receive their entire education from kindergarten and first grade through college in Sacramento public schools.
He married, had three children and retired after 33 years as a construction estimator for the state Division of Architecture.
“He went off to World War II and then came home, worked, raised a family and lived in the same house in Hollywood Park for 60 years,” his son said. “He was just like a lot of guys back then with those values. They were the greatest generation.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Daniels achieved celebrity in the golfing community as a top player. He played three times a week for many years and made five holes-in-one, including the No. 7 at William Land Golf Course from 147 yards in 2006. He played three times a week for many years with top golfers, including Verne Callison.
“It wasn’t about playing only with other scratch players,” his son said. “He loved playing with everybody. He was very self-effacing and very uplifting, always encouraging other players and saying, ‘Hey, great shot!’
“He taught me that the most important thing about the game is not your score, but just spending four or five hours with friends on the course and having a good time.”
In addition to his son Ed, Mr. Daniels is survived by his wife of 60 years, Janis; a son, Stephen; a daughter, Cynthia Gargovich; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A private service is planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the SPCA or to Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary in Sacramento.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.