As he readied himself to host a group of army cadets celebrating their graduation from the training program he led, Idicula Daniel taught his son his first "big" word: "Congratulations."
He told the first-grader that this was the word to say when cake-bearing cadets arrived. It was a special day; it always was, when an Indian army class had graduated.
A mild-mannered man with an even keel and a bright smile, Daniel had been in service since he joined the British army in India during World War II. The British were in India and fighting the Japanese in Burma, his son explains, but Daniel, then 18 years old, saw no action — it was discovered early on that he had a talent for training others.
His training career would span decades and armies. He taught officers and cadets, and developed a reputation for educating others and shaping their careers. Twice, he was selected to teach at the Indian Military Academy.
"He wouldn’t brag about it, but people have come and told us," said his son, Daniel Johnson of Central Islip. " 'If it was not for your dad, we would have had nothing.’ "
Idicula Daniel, who immigrated to the United States with his wife in 1991 to be with their children and grandchildren, had been living on Long Island for three decades when he died on May 6 of coronary artery disease. The Central Islip resident was 97.
Born in India to a family of farmers who had converted from Hinduism to Christianity, Daniel lived a life centered around faith and study. He grew up the second of six sons in Punalur, a municipality in the state of Kerala. He spoke the local language, Malayalam, and throughout his life added English, Hindi, Tamil and bits of Urdu and Telugu.
Though he was not highly educated himself, he made it his mission to educate those around him, including his children. His daughter, Valsa Johnson of Rockland County, and son each recalled their father’s efforts to teach them subjects religious and secular.
"Looking back, it was the greatest thing he did for us," said Valsa.
Daniel was regimented and steady. He woke up and ate meals at assigned times, prayed in the mornings and evenings. "An army person," as his daughter describes him, he was highly punctual and averse to wasting time.
In the army and outside of it, he was a literal "sharp shooter." He could shoot a rifle with both hands and won trophies with his son in shooting competitions. He was adventurous and unafraid of the unknown.
"He was not afraid of anything, he would try it," his son said. "‘If I fail, I fail, so what?’"
Once he had moved permanently to America, he prepared himself for his driver’s and citizenship exams. He answered every question correctly on each exam, having taken out library books to study American history. His daughter was in awe of his independence and fearlessness.
And yet, with his strength came a distinct softness. He was gentle, patient and kind, his children said. Not one for punitive action, he never yelled, never punished his children; his wife was the disciplinarian.
He and K.M. Ponnamma married in 1953 and remained together for the rest of his life.
The embodiment of joy, hope and strong Christian faith, Idicula Daniel faced his own life challenges with courage, his daughter said. He endured a bypass surgery, the installation of five stents, and the corresponding rehab regimens. He remained faithful when his daughter, Joy, passed away of a sudden illness at 5½ years old.
Devotion to religion, expressed on Long Island through his membership in the Long Island Brethren Assembly, was a constant for Daniel as he adapted to the unpredictability of a military career. After 28 years in the army, Daniel joined the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary organization in India. He spent the last seven years of his training career there and retired as an inspector.
Daniel is survived by his wife; son; daughter; and five grandchildren.