Dan Daly is a Vietnam War Swift Boat veteran and the author of White Water Red Hot Lead: On Board U.S. Navy Swift Boats in Vietnam. Keep reading to learn about his life, his inspiration for writing this book, and much more in his interview below.
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Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and have lived here my entire life except for the three years in the United States Navy. My wife is from the Boston area, my business is here and both our sons and their children reside in greater Boston. My business has required that I travel extensively in the United States and in the 1980s for five years; we had an office and a house in San Francisco.
Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?
No one in recent generations in my family was in the military. I joined Naval ROTC at Harvard College as a freshman in 1961. Upon graduation in 1965, I received my commission as a US Navy ensign.
What kinds of books did you read growing up? Which had the greatest impact on you?
In my younger years and in high school mysteries and adventure made up the bulk of my reading. Engaging stories that made you part of the action had a definite appeal to me. In college, I was an economics major with related material making up the bulk of my reading material. However, this was not all technical and did involve a fair amount of economic history.
What did you do before you started (or in addition to) writing? Did you have any odd jobs?
For the past 40+ years I have owned a consulting business, headquartered in Boston, providing services to senior executives. Our products would include executive search, along with assessment and evaluation plus training and development. Client Reports are a definite part of that business involving the analysis and interpretation of data resulting in assessments of the situation and recommendations for future action. www.dalyco.com
About 12 years ago, we added to our portfolio of services a biweekly electronic newsletter discussing current topics related to corporate governance. It is sent to our network of 20,000 senior executives and members of the Board of Directors. The link is www.thedirectorsletter.com My role in that effort is editor with direct responsibility for commentary.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?
While I was comfortable writing consultant reports and a biweekly newsletter I had never considered writing a book. Based on my three years of naval experience, I did however have a great many stories.
In Vietnam I served aboard the U.S. Navy’s 50 foot high-speed patrol boats called Swift Boats. Shipmates, with whom I served, suggested that I put my stories together in some sort of more formal presentation. Five years ago, working weekends, because I had a full-time job, I started putting the stories down on paper. Essentially, one story drafted per weekend.
I did enjoy putting the stories on paper because that effort brought back additional memories making the overall task more fulfilling and often more enjoyable.
The challenge of taking 30+ stories that were related but not tied together and convert that into anything resembling a book came after almost 4 years of weekend writing.
What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?
I enjoy reading history and if the book is well-written, I feel, it is both a learning experience and it makes you part of the adventure. In my own book White Water Red Hot Lead the challenge was taking 25+ stories and weaving them into a book. The goal was to make the book an interesting read from a factual and historical standpoint but at the same time bring the reader on board and into the story.
When and how did you become interested in Military history?
It was 30 + years ago when I started reading about World War II with Herman Wouk’s novels and other maritime stories such as The Caine Mutiny and The Cruel Sea. I could relate to these having been involved in small boats my entire life, plus 3 years in the Navy, half of which was spent in combat in Vietnam.
One subject that published authors often claim to be under-discussed is rejection. Could you talk a bit about any of your experiences with rejection and about the persistence and resilience required of authors?
Having owned and built several small businesses, I was more than familiar with rejection. In my own situation, I had written a book almost 400 pages long. We had printed in paperback 50 copies which we gave to family and friends. The feedback was positive, although certainly not overwhelming. As a result, I began to seek out an agent to represent me. As a 70-year-old, first book author, the response was underwhelming. As a small businessman, I gathered together a group of associates who led us to an editor and proofreader and eventually a printer. Over a 12 month period we sold 700 copies of the book. Along the way, we had developed a comprehensive business plan for the book. After what we considered reasonable successes, we sent the business plan, then the book to several publishers. Casemate quickly responded and approximately seven weeks later we entered into a partnership with them.
Do you have any advice for budding military history authors wanting to get published?
Putting on my business hat, my recommendation would be “Don’t give up your day job.” Writing a book proposal or in our case a business plan (because we had already written the book) was quite helpful. There are “how-to,” books that are guidelines to writing this and it is a worthwhile exercise in discipline. Tough questions should be asked beforehand such as; why are you writing the book, who is the competition, and how do you compare with them? Who are the buyers and how do you intend reach them? Realistic advisers are a critical asset. They can be helpful maintaining your focus and improving your effort. Financial considerations in terms of what can you afford to invest should be a part of the discussion.
White Water Red Hot Lead
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
I did a minuscule amount of research on the book because it was based on true stories of which I was part of. When a related story was required that I was not directly involved in, I contacted former shipmates.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
In Vietnam I served aboard the U.S. Navy’s 50 foot high-speed patrol boats called Swift Boats. Shipmates, with whom I served, suggested that I put the stories together in some sort of more formal presentation. Five years ago, working weekends, because I had a full-time job I started putting the stories down on paper. Essentially, one story roughed out per weekend.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
To answer that question, it would be better to start with what the book is not. It is not a political statement, nor is it an emotional cleansing of the soul of the author. From a historical standpoint, it is a positive story about young men from across the country who volunteered to serve their country. They were proud of their service then and remain so today. It tells their story in a fast-paced and engaging format. It blends combat, humor and a touch of romance. The reader is on board a US Navy Swift Boat, driving at the helm or manning one of the 50 caliber machine guns. Running 50 yards off the beach or navigating a narrow river, the enemy is never far away. The sky can be blue and tropical and 60 minutes later the seas can be 10 feet high and foaming white water. Does this appeal to you?
About the book
During the Vietnam war 3500 officers and men served in the Swift Boat program in a fleet of 130 boats with no armor plating. The boats patrolled the coast and rivers of South Vietnam, with the average age of the crew being twenty-four. Their days consisted of deadly combat, intense lightning firefights, storms and many hidden dangers.
This action-packed story of combat written by Dan Daly, a Vietnam combat veteran who was the Officer in Charge of PCF 76 makes you part of the Swift Boat crew. The six man crew of PCF 76 were volunteers from all over the United States, eager to serve their country in a unique type of duty not seen since the PT boats of WWII. This inexperienced and disparate group of men would meld into a combat team – a team that formed an unbreakable, lifelong bond.
After training they were plunged into a 12-month tour of duty. Combat took place in the closest confines imaginable, where the enemy were hidden behind a passing sand dune or a single sniper could be concealed in an onshore bunker. In many cases the rivers became so narrow there was barely room to maneuver or turn around. The only way out might be into a deadly ambush.
Dan Daly received his naval commission after graduation from Harvard College. After 18 months on a Navy destroyer, he volunteered for Swift Boat duty. After training, he and his crew served 12 months in Vietnam, 1967-68. He later founded several consulting firms and lives on Cape Cod with his family.
What People Are Saying
“White Water Red Hot Lead is an extraordinary story of heroism and love set against a backdrop of small boat operations in Vietnam. Above all, this is a book of leadership and deserves a close read from but historians and leaders in today’s turbulent world.”
“Dan Daly’s book captures the essence of the U.S. Navy small boats operations in Vietnam. Combat was never far away, we built the bonds of brotherhood, often with tears and laughter, where ‘above and beyond’ became the norm. You got it right. Bravo Zulu.”
“I comment as a former Marine infantry platoon commander. Dan’s book propels you, in seconds, from the laid-back and tranquil to the chaos of a firefight. If you are seeking a realistic portrayal of combat leadership in Vietnam, this is it!”
“Skipper, each page brought me back to the time when we were young and strong, brave and fearless. The events from 48 years ago: Drag racing a Navy destroyer in San Diego and flying that ‘last patrol, going home’ flag in Vietnam. A cherished memory is being part of the crew aboard PCF 76. ‘Thank you for remembering, Dan’.”