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Beloved admiral leads Oak Harbor parade
Retired Rear Adm. William J. McDaniel (Ret.) has assisted with disaster relief around the world, served in Vietnam and even starred on a reality TV show. Now he has one more accolade as grand marshal of Oak Harbor’s Fourth of July parade.
The parade begins at 11 a.m. this morning, July 4, on Bayshore Drive.
“I’m very tickled. It’s an honor,” McDaniel said of being chosen as grand marshal. “They’ve had some wonderful grand marshals in the past and it’s an honor and I appreciate it.”
McDaniel, 69, lives on North Whidbey Island with his wife, Shirley.
He was born in Oklahoma and received his doctor of medicine degree in 1968, leading him to the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Florida, where he became a Navy flight surgeon and embarked on worldwide assignments in Okinawa, Japan, aboard the USS Tripoli off the coast of Vietnam and to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
McDaniel served 32 years in the Navy but the adventures didn’t stop there. Ten years ago, he starred as the mole in the reality TV show “The Mole” for 13 weeks. In the show, contestants had to gather money that only one contestant would win in the end. McDaniel was chosen to be the mole, a contestant secretly working to sabotage the other contestants’ efforts.
“That was incredible. We spent seven weeks in Switzerland and Italy filming the show. Anderson Cooper was the host,” McDaniel said, adding that he got to know Cooper and the other contestants very well and saw beautiful locations like Venice, the Alps and Rome.
People still recognize McDaniel from the show today, including a Canadian border guard who gave him a scare when she said she remembered him.
“Those things are fun and funny. It really was quite an experience. The most notable effect was I got a lot of close friends,” McDaniel said, adding that he is still close with the other contestants.
The most meaningful work he said he’s done in his life was with tsunami victims in Indonesia. In 2005, he led the efforts of the Naval Hospital Ship USNS Mercy and spent three months living in Indonesia.
“That has been the most meaningful and emotional thing I’ve ever done,” McDaniel said.
The Indonesian people McDaniel worked with were so grateful and didn’t ask for anything, he said.
“Working with those folks was so phenomenally touching,” McDaniel added. “All of us who worked there were touched so deeply.”
In a time when McDaniel said America needs something to feel good about, he speaks to groups about his experiences in Indonesia. Recently, he spoke to a yacht club in Seattle and worried that the tough crowd of older folks wouldn’t feel what he felt. After he spoke, a past commodore told him it was the best talk he’d heard.
McDaniel speaks all over the nation about disaster response, post traumatic stress disorder, his experiences on “The Mole” and more. He wrote a book, “Reflections of the Mole,” humorously detailing his time on the TV show, and he’s currently working on publishing a book about his work in Indonesia titled “Faces of the Tsunami.”
McDaniel also assisted with disaster relief from Hurricane Katrina and was Navy Wrestling Champion from 1973 through 1977, Interservice Wrestling Champion in 1975 to 1976 and World Silver Medallist in CISM Military World Games, Rome, Italy in 1974. He earned a number of military honors, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two battle stars and more.
Now, McDaniel said he loves living on Whidbey Island.
“It is so beautiful and delightful here,” he said.
After the parade, enjoy the carnival, which begins at 11 a.m. and the vendor marketplace, running from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. downtown. Family games run from 2 to 5 p.m. at Windjammer Park. For the grand finale, view fireworks from Windjammer Park at 10:30 p.m.