Erin Gough McDaniel was not alive when her father was in the U.S. Marine Corps.
J. Fred Gough served for 22 years in the Marines. He grew up in Hutchinson and enlisted in the Marines after graduating from high school. He served in the Korean War and two tours of duty in Vietnam. He retired in the mid 1970s with the rank of first sergeant.
"He was a very dedicated and proud Marine," McDaniel said. "Being a Marine really shaped who he was."
Now the director of public information for the city of Newton, McDaniel grew up knowing her father’s service was important to him and his family. She didn’t know much about his time in the service — where he was stationed, what his life was like, how he felt.
"He passed away when I was 16, so I never got to know him as an adult and ask him those questions," McDaniel said.
She would find out that an old, long-neglected box of photographic slides would lead her to some answers.
"They were old-style slides," she said. "You could kind of see what was on them if you held them to light. I really didn’t know exactly what I was going to find."
In 2011, McDaniel sent the slides to a company to be digitized. She loved the "touristy" photos her dad took in Japan during the 1950s when he was stationed at Camp McNair along the slopes of Mount Fuji.
There was a picture of her dad posing with the Great Buddha of Kamakura — a 43-foot-tall, 103-ton bronze statue built in the 13th century. Several decades later, McDaniel and her daughter, Cora, would recreate the photograph on their own trip to Japan.
"It was really neat to see all the photos of my dad looking young and handsome," McDaniel said. "It was very exciting. It’s like a time machine. It connected me to a piece of his life that I didn’t get to experience or ask him about."
A picture of another man among the photos led her to find out a little more about her dad. The man’s name tag read Ralph Ryerson. She looked up the name on Facebook until she found a profile of a man close in age to what her father would have been who was stationed in Japan at the same time as J. Fred Gough. McDaniel sent him an email message.
"Mr. Ryerson, you don’t know me, but ..."
Ryerson didn’t recall the name, but when McDaniel sent him a picture of her dad, he remembered him.
"He was jealous that my dad's pics were color," McDaniel said. "But my dad was a sergeant and Ralph was ‘a lowly one-stripe PFC’ back then and couldn't afford the better camera. He said he and my dad likely took these photos of each other by Sagami Bay."
In one of the many emails they exchanged, Ryerson told McDaniel that he recalled her dad more with the pictures.
"He was a great guy and a leader of the Marines," Ryerson told her.
McDaniel said if her dad had lived into the internet age, he would have "jumped at the chance" to reconnect with people with whom he had served.
Ryerson was so excited to get the photos, he brought them to Las Vegas for a reunion of Mike Battery, the 4th Battalion of the 12th Marines. The pictures were preserved in a history file.
"If Dad were alive, he’d be 89," McDaniel said. "I assumed Ralph was a little younger. He would be in his 80s. I don’t know if he’s still with us or not. We unfortunately didn’t stay in touch after 2011."
On Veterans Day, McDaniel did post to her Facebook a message Ryerson had emailed her nearly 10 years ago.
"You should be proud to be the daughter of a Marine and let everyone know it."