A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
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.”
He pushed on through the hedgerows to Saint-Lo, and he had his first Silver Star by the time he reached Paris. In September, while his father was in the south of France with Patch’s Seventh Army. Michael was wounded at Aachen. He recuperated in England, and when he returned, General Patch sent for him. Patch’s only son had been killed, as had Paul Daly’s nephew. “He asked what kind of assignment I’d like. He implied I could be his aide. I said I wanted to re-join the infantry.”