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A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly

A Veteran’s Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
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His father would lead the Memorial Day parade on horseback. At the end of the Fourth of July day-long party, his father always set off a tremendous fireworks display. “It was his birthday,” Michael says. “I always thought all the celebration was for him.”

Father and son galloped bareback through the fields together, then went on foot through the woods “hunting for Indians.” Seeing smoke in the distance, his father would whisper it was Indians burning villages. Much later Michael would realize it was only smokestacks in the town below.

His father bought horses that were considered untrainable and turned them into fox hunters. “We always had temperamental horses throwing us off. We weren’t supposed to cry. We weren’t supposed to show fear. We were supposed to get right up on the horse again.” Michael says.

At night his father read aloud. “He rarely said the word ‘courage,’ but he read so often about knights that I knew ‘The Song of Roland’ by heart,” Michael says. Sometimes Paul Daly told his favorite story about himself. He was on reconnaissance across barbed wire into no-man’s land. It was a dark, moonless night. He broke through the wire and completed his mission. Turning back he couldn’t find the gap he had so laboriously broken through. Soon it would be light and he would make an easy target for the Germans. He said a silent prayer to the Blessed Lady. “He said he saw a bright star,” Michael says, “one he hadn’t seen before. He followed the star and there was the gap.”

He taught Michael military history by reenacting great battles in the garden. “Every June 18 was Waterloo. We dug trenches in the soil and put our soldiers and artillery in place and my father would shout, ‘French cavalry on the right!'”

Once, during the Depression, Paul Daly heard a noise downstairs. With his ivory-handled sword in hand, he crept down the stairs and pricked the intruder on the leg. Then, always the gentleman, he applied iodine and bandages and sent him away with a bag of food.

Just before his 13th birthday Michael went away to Georgetown Prep in Washington, D.C. A blue ribbon horseman, a budding basketball star, lanky, hot-tempered, he had little regard for school regulations. “I was full of myself,” he says. “I got by living for the next game.”

Michael graduated in June 1941, not yet 17, too young to go to West Point as his father wished. He went instead to Rhode Island’s Portsmouth Priory, a strict school run by monks, where his escapades continued. During one such adventure his father phoned to say good-bye. Fifty years old by then, he had been asked by his old First Division friend, Lieutenant General Alexander Patch, to join him in the Pacific. Michael, discovered absent from school, was dismissed. However, a family friend interceded and Michael received his West Point appointment, entering the Academy in the summer of 1942.

“I was a spectacular failure as a cadet. One night I was late for guard duty. I also hadn’t locked my rifle. I mistook the trigger for the locking mechanism and I fired a round through a building. The same night I was sitting on the running board of a car when the inspector of the guard came by. I set a record for demerits that night.” He flunked math and would have had to repeat the year. He resigned, and in the fall of 1943, when his father was sent to North Africa with General Patch, he enlisted in the army.

He went to England in the spring, joining the 18th Infantry of the First Division, his father’s old outfit, three days before D-Day. He was 19 years old. Michael landed at Omaha Beach in the second wave. “There was tremendous confusion. Men from the first wave were still trying to get ashore. We couldn’t see the people firing at us. I heard bullets whine overhead, but I didn’t know what they were. It was not a question of overcoming my fear, but of trying to control it. My father used to say there’s no such thing as bravery. What people called bravery was being raised so you’re more afraid of showing fear than fear itself.”

Mel Allen


Mel Allen


Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.

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3 Responses to A Veteran’s Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly

  1. Kelly Stocking November 10, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    What an amazing story…Thank you for sharing it with us. And, Michael Daly…thank you for your service.

  2. Mel Allen November 12, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Thank you Kelly. Michael Daly died a few years ago, but his story lives on: courage and humility. There will be a story to look for in Yankee’s January/February 2013 issue about a remarkable Vermont National Guardsman and before I met with him I had sent him this story about Michael Daly. Everyone who has served in the military can relate to Michael Daly’s feelings of memory and comradeship.

  3. Editor 164th Infantry News December 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Michael’s father, Col Paul G. Daly was, for a short time, the Commander of the 164th Infantry Regiment during the last days of the Americal Division’s battles on Guadalcanal. Previously assigned as Division Intelligence Officer, Daly took command of the 164th on 1 Jan 43 and saw them through the transition to Fiji for reconstitution and refitting until he was reassigned on 15 June 43. The senior Daly then went on to command the 398th Inf Reg’t, 100th Division, in the European Theater.
    The 164th Infantry Regiment, originally North Dakota Army National Guard, was the first US Army unit to offensively engage the enemy (in either theater) when they reinforced the Marines at Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942. On the 70th Anniversary of their march into history, the 164th Infantry Association is still holding annual reunions, prints a newsmagazine 3 times a year, and published a book in 2010.
    I located this article while researching the WWII commanders of the 164th Infantry, which served until 1945.
    The research is turning into a story “The Daly’s: A Family of Courage” . Col Paul Daly was a hero, as was his son, Michael. Another son, 1st Lt T.F. Gilroy Daly served as an Army Ranger in the Korean War. Stories worth telling. Thank you for your article.

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