A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
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.”
Convalescence was lengthy. He developed pleurisy that sent him to a sanatarium in Colorado for six months. Finally home, he couldn’t sleep. He closed up the bars, drinking Scotch, and refused to go back to college. His father did not pressure him. But an old friend of his father’s reacted. “He said, ‘Why don’t you go to work?’ The tone of his voice was like a cement block dropping on my head,” Michael recalls.