A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
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.The next day he went to work for an oil company. Eventually he began his own business selling oil, gas, and air filters to oil companies. He married Maggie Wallace when he was 35. She was divorced with two children, was an avid gardener, allergic to horses, and a close family friend. They built a house set amidst a broad green field and stone walls half a mile from his father’s farm.
The first child to come was a daughter, Deirdre. Then Michael’s son, who is named after him, was born mentally retarded. “Mickey has done more for me than I have ever done for him,” Michael will tell you, even though “the problems with no endings are the hardest.”
For Deirdre, it was as though she had two fathers. There was the one who played basketball with her, and went on business trips, who was kind and serious and romantic. And there was the one she could never know – whose medals, and those of his father, were in a velvet-lined case. One summer she traveled to France. “I knew I could never understand that part of his life,” she says, “but I had to try.” She went to Omaha Beach where the white crosses blinded her with their terrible beauty. She thought of her father always alone on Memorial Day and had a vision of an animal tearing at its own wound to destroy the pain. She never felt so close to him as on the night she slept on Omaha Beach. And when she came home she and Michael talked.
“I used to wonder why my father used to look back so much, even more as he got older. Now I understand,” Michael told her. “It’s probably the one time in life when you’re willing to sacrifice everything for the guy alongside of you. You never have that again. You forget the carnage and the sadness and you remember this one thing — you had a cause greater than yourself.”
Paul Daly never fully recovered from the war. His limp got worse, but he continued to ride. Year after year he went to the dwindling reunions of the 18th Infantry, First Division. In his last years he would take his walker to the pasture to watch his grandchildren ride. He died on June 10, 1974, Father’s Day weekend, when he was nearly 83. There was a three-day Irish wake for the Colonel who was laid out in his living room in uniform with a flag draped by the coffin. It was a diverse group of mourners who cried and laughed and ate and drank — horseplayers and Democrats and veterans. Friends said that the Colonel would finally get to ask Napoleon why he had blundered at Waterloo.
Late last summer Michael Daly returned to Germany for the first time since World War II. At 58 he was slender with serious gray eyes. He had been invited by the young Commander of Company A, 15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, his old outfit, “to boost morale.” They gave him the Audie Murphy Suite, but he woke before daylight, uncertain whether he had slept at all. “Faces came hack to me,” he said. He dressed quickly and walked across the parade grounds to a small Memorial Park where plaques were set in boulders. He stood there alone watching the sun streak the sky until he could hear faint stirrings in the distant barracks. He was remembering, fighting against forgetting, fearing that if the memories dimmed he would become a stranger to himself.
He gave a speech at an officers’ banquet. He was asked to wear his blue embossed Medal and he did. He had always wanted to give a speech like this, to soldiers: so often the speeches he gave at home seemed not really understood. No speech he had given before, he felt, would mean as much as this one. He spoke about the infantry and the men he had lost, and at times his voice cracked. Towards the end he quoted the Antarctic explorer Captain Scott who wrote to his son from his deathbed, “Courage is the thing. Everything goes if courage goes.” As he finished the men stood and applauded.
“Remember us,” he told them, “as long as you can.”