John Daniels was 19 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966. He and his 25 male classmates from C B Dansby, an all-black school in Kilgore, entered the Vietnam War at different times. Thankfully, they all came home alive.
Daniels was initially from Henderson County in Athens and, being an only child, did not expect to be drafted. However, he was one of the first from his class “My friends laughed at me for getting called up,” he said. “But as I was finishing up basic training, I looked up, and there were all my friends coming through.” He got to spend some time with his best friend at Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana.
It didn’t take Daniels long to learn how he would be serving.
“The recruiter would randomly pick someone and tell them where they were going,” Daniels said. “You had no choice of where you were going; it was where they sent you.” His assignment was in transportation. He was a convoy driver, taking supplies into the field. “Going into the ammunition dump to pick up supplies was the scariest time in my life because you never knew when a bomb might go off,” he said. “There were always explosions over there.”
Daniels was stationed in Vietnam during a particularly frightening time on January 30, 1968, when the Viet Cong released a series of surprise attacks throughout South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive coincided with the Lunar New Year, and nobody expected it.
“There was no getting ready for war. You had to be ready at all times because you never knew when a bomb might go off,” Daniels said.
“Basic training taught me a lot of things. The Army was the Army, and they had a certain set of rules that you had to follow,” he said. “It was their way or the highway. They made men out of you. They would make you or break you.”
Daniels considered a career in the U.S. Army following his return from Vietnam, but he wanted to be stationed in Fort Hood in Killeen. Instead, he got sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Daniels only had six months left to serve in the Army, but he didn’t like it there, so he got out. On the other hand, he had only one week left in the service when his grandmother died. After the funeral, he had to return to Fort Bragg until his time was up to be discharged from the Army.
Being in the military wasn’t his first choice, but it led to an education and a 30-year career with Atlantic Richfield (ARCO). Using the GI Bill and its benefits from his service to the country, Daniels attended college (including KC) and studied the oil and gas industry.
“It was tough; it was an experience, you grew up really fast,” Daniels said. “I went in a kid, but came out a man.”