Once thought to have died at sea, Butler County veteran serves 3 wars

Imagine the shocked look on the faces of Cecil and Dorothy Daily when their son, a Merchant Marine during World War II, walked through the front door and into the living room.

Their son.

Their dead son.

Or so they had been told.

Their son, Cecil Daily, of Hamilton, was assigned to a cargo ship when it allegedly was sunk by an enemy torpedo. His parents were told by U.S. officials all servicemen aboard the ship were killed. But Daily said the torpedo sailed under his ship, and sank a nearby vessel.

He was a few feet from death.

“She didn’t do what I thought she’d do,” Daily said of his mother’s reaction. “I thought she’d pass out. She ran to me and almost knocked me down. I was glad to have her arms wrapped around me. My dad came out and he didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘Son, you’re supposed to be dead.’”

So what did a man who escaped death do after the war? He enlisted and served during the Korean War and Vietnam War. Daily, who enlisted in 1943 — then a 16-year-old high school freshman in Hamilton — retired from the service in 1970.

Twenty-seven years.

Three wars.

One man.

“I feel I’m lucky that I’m still here,” he said.

Daily, 89, will serve as grand marshal for Middletown’s Memorial Day Parade. On Thursday, before the monthly gathering of Veterans Social Command, a group whose motto is, “Veterans Helping Veterans,” Daily sat in the pastor’s office at Mercy Point Church, and discussed the upcoming parade and his everlasting patriotism.

“It’s going to be an honor for me,” Daily said. “I like, how would you say it, I feel lucky that I’m still around. There are a lot of men who aren’t. I probably will cry.”

Later on he added: “This is going to be special to me.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

There were times during the 30-minute interview when tears streamed down Daily’s face. He just sat there, on a padded seat attached to his walker, and kept talking. He proudly wore a black baseball hat embroidered with “WWII, Korean, Vietnam Veteran.”

When asked about the hat, he quipped: “You can’t buy this thing.”

There isn’t a demand for three-war hats.

Daily said there are times when people don’t believe he served in three wars because he looks younger than his age.

Jeri Lewis, organizer of Middletown’s Memorial Day Parade, said she was “blown away” by Daily’s life story, and the way he remains patriotic.

“When you look at what symbolizes an American soldier, you see someone like him,” said Lewis, who calls herself an “Army brat” because of her family’s military history. “He represents Middletown very well, and my generation can relate to him.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Daily’s wife of 56 years, Melba, died two years ago, and he has buried a son and daughter, whom he adopted when he married. He also has two other daughters.

After retiring from the military 47 years ago, Daily worked for 26 years at Champion International in Hamilton.

He remembers walking into a hospital and delivering supplies during the Korean War. He met a young soldier, his legs and one arm casualties of war.

“That did it to me,” Daily said. “I saw some of those boys in there. I don’t want to see them again. I don’t want to see anything like it. It was so bad. I look at this one boy and he was lying in there. And you know he was smiling. When he saw me he started smiling. I said, ‘How are you doing young fella?’ He talked to me real nice.”

The interview was about over as Daily heard the noise level raising in the church as other veterans started sharing stories.

“I’ve had a good life. I can’t complain,” he said. “I love my country. If I could get up and hold a gun, I’d be right over there with them again.”

There isn’t room on his hat for another war.

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