A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
Excerpt from Yankee Magazine May 1983
On Memorial Day in Fairfield, Connecticut, when the parade and the speeches are over, Michael Daly drives along Long Island Sound and later heads north to towns where nobody knows him, and he does not come home until dark. “He really mourns,” his wife Maggie says. “Everybody else is having picnics, but he’s alone, mourning.”
There are not many people left in Fairfield who remember when Michael came home in the rain clutching his Medal of Honor. It was the 24th of August in 1945. There was a huge parade, and he sat beside his father, Colonel Paul Daly, in an open roadster. Both men had been badly wounded, the Colonel by shrapnel that nearly severed his sciatic nerve, Michael by a bullet in the face. A few weeks later — on Michael’s 21st birthday — the Colonel got his 12-year-old son, Gilroy, to drive him to every bar in town. At each stop he put a roll of money on the counter and shouted, “This is on Michael!”
Paul Daly was born on the Fourth of July, 1891, in Harlem when it was still country and you needed a coach and four to go to market. He was a magnificent horseman with the same unbridled spirit as the horses he sought to tame. No school held him long. He was kicked out of them all, including West Point. But in World War I, in the 18th Infantry of the First Infantry Division, he found his genius for combat. Later one general would write a book about the First Division and inscribe it “To Paul Daly, the bravest man I have ever known.”
On July 18, 1918, near Soissons, France, with his battalion surrounded, he successfully assaulted the Chateau of Buzancy, a German stronghold, and boldly demanded its surrender. “I am on the heights of Buzancy with 90 men and one officer.” the message said. “I have just captured 210 officers and men of the enemy.”
He came home a hero with the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, and three wounds. He would practice law. but his heart lay elsewhere. He referred clients to other lawyers, then, duty done, would skip off to the track. He married beautiful, red-headed Madelaine Mulqueen. Their first-born was a daughter named Madelaine; their second, a son who died in infancy. On September 15, 1924, Michael was born. Paul Daly adored him, but his dignity rarely allowed him to show it. Yet he shared with Michael his great love — the breeding of thoroughbreds for stamina, heart, and courage.
Michael grew up in the Southport section of Fairfield in a country house at the end of a long pebbled drive. Folks in town called it “Daly’s Chateau.” “We’re not rich, but we’re privileged,” his father said. The Dalys were Fairfield’s storybook family, set apart in spite of themselves.
“We were always late to church,” Michael says. “My father led us down the aisle. and we always sat in the front pew. and you could see the heads turn, hear the whispers, ‘It’s the Major.’ I flushed with embarrassment.”
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!'”