A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
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.”
He joined Company A, 15th Infantry, Third Infantry Division just before Christmas during the fighting along the Colmar Pocket in eastern France. He was with battle-hardened soldiers who had fought in North Africa through Sicily, into Italy, and now through France. But they quickly learned to respect the young Second Lieutenant.
“We were having a terrible time,” recalls Burton Barr (today Majority Leader of the Arizona House of Representatives), who served as Michael’s assistant battalion commander, “but here was this gangly guy, always where you could see him, not hiding his height, an easy target, as though he believed wherever he stood would protect him. He never told you about himself, but you wanted to follow him. He was a truly brave man.”
Meanwhile Paul Daly was commanding the 198th Infantry of the 100th Division when a mortar caught him near Biche. He came home in great pain, forced to sit all day on the couch, chafing that he let himself be hit. He received a letter from General Patch about Michael’s actions during the fierce Alsace-Lorraine fighting. “Under heavy fire, with many of his men hurt, he grasped victory from almost certain defeat.” By April Michael was a First Lieutenant, a company commander, with three Silver Stars.
On April 16 he entered Nuremberg where, in the impenetrable rubble that was once a great city, the SS troops were holed up. Later friends would ask him why he risked dying when he half expected the next radio message to say the war was over. They asked why he didn’t just pull back and wait. And he could not really answer except to say, “You don’t win unless you occupy. And this was a great crusade we were on.”
Burton Barr remembers: “It was early in the morning. We were told to advance. A machine gun opened up from atop a railroad embankment killing some of our men. He told us, he ordered us to take cover. He ran towards the machine gun. Bullets were kicking up all around him, but he kept firing and he killed the three men. He continued on alone, ahead of us. Six Germans were in the rubble of a house firing rockets. He stayed there and killed them too. Later, by a park a burst of fire killed our sergeant. There were three of them, and he got them. There was another fight that day, another machinegun crew. He protected us.” Reports said that Michael had killed anywhere from 15 to 22 soldiers. “I don’t remember very much of that day,” Michael says quietly. The next day he was shot in the face.
“We’d just come through a park, getting ready to attack the old city,” Barr related. “As usual, A Company was to lead the attack. He was leaning on my shoulder, talking to me. There was a crack and Mike spun around. I’ll always remember… He took a pencil out of his pocket and stuck it down his throat to keep his windpipe open, did it as calmly as can be.”
“I thought I was finished,” Michael says. “I’d seen enough face wounds. I remembered to be still. But it was like there was a pillow over my face. I knew I was suffocating.” A tracheotomy saved his life. The next morning, Nuremberg surrendered.
He was sent to a hospital in England, then came home, a Captain, to a hospital in Framingham, Massachusetts, where he learned to talk with a nerve-damaged throat. When his sister Madelaine came to see him he whispered that when he was in a tight spot he had thought of Roland.
On August 23 he received the Medal of Honor from President Truman. He came home on a Friday night in a pouring rain. Banners hanging all across town said, “Welcome Home, Captain Michael Daly.” The band played and an open roadster took him and his father to the high school auditorium where he told the cheering crowd in words perhaps few understood, “This is the swellest thing that has ever happened to me.”