By BUMED Historian’s Office
Editor’s Note: There are many colorful characters in the Navy whose stories live on long after they retire from the service. There can be little doubt that in the pantheon of these “larger than life” figures retired Rear Adm. William McDaniel, MC stands tall. McDaniel served 30 years in the Navy Medical Department where he commanded five medical facilities including Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia (1992-1995) before retiring in 1997. Despite his many accomplishments, there are those today who will remember him today as the “Wrestling CO.”
Before donning the uniform, McDaniel was an All-American collegiate wrestler at Oklahoma State University. He would later become a five-time wrestling champion in the Navy, and serve as a physician for the USA wrestling team. To say that his reputation as a wrestler preceded him at his commands would be correct and throughout his career he would occasionally engage in competitive matches with members of his hospital staff. In a recent oral history session with the BUMED history office, McDaniel remembered one notable match.
I wrestled all my life, and when I got to Portsmouth I made sure we had wrestling mats in the gym because I still enjoyed the sport. Every once in a while I would get kids that would come up to me in the gym and say, “Hey Admiral, you want to go around?” And I’d wrestle them. About six months before I was due to leave I noticed on my calendar that there was a 12:30 wrestling match. I asked, “What in the world is this?”
My secretary said, “Some guy called over and said to make sure you’re there at 12:30.” I show up at the gym and there are about 300 spectators in the bleachers and two reporters from the Virginia Pilot. I thought, what in the world is going on? I grab this guy I’m going to wrestle, who’s a pretty good sized kid; he’s a corpsman, and I said, “What’s going on?”
He said, “Sir, I don’t need the ‘96-hour liberty.’ I just want the honor of knowing I beat you.”
I thought, “What the heck is he talking about?” Then I found out my command master chief had been telling everybody during the newcomer’s orientation every two weeks, “I’ll give 96 hours liberty to anybody who can beat the skipper on the wrestling mat.” But he never told me that.
This kid was a pretty good wrestler. He’d wrestled at ODU and he’d done a seven-match tour of Russia undefeated.(1) When we tied up, I could see I was considerably stronger than he was, and ultimately broke his rib while pinning him. I’m sure to his chagrin that on the front page of the sports pages in the Virginia Pilot the next day was a full article, “What a deal, beat the Admiral, get 96 hours off.” The article showed him on his back unsuccessfully trying to do a bridge. (2)
The next day “Sick Call” called me and said, “Admiral, you know that guy you wrestled yesterday? He’s in here, and you know what his complaint is? His complaint is: ‘I think the Admiral broke something inside me.’” Yes, he had a broken rib.
About two months later I wrestled a kid who invited a gym full of people. I beat him, but he was good. At that point I told my secretary, “I’m retiring from wrestling.” I looked like I’d been in a street fight every time I wrestled.
(1) Old Dominion University
(2) Bridge: grappling move in wresting performed lying down.