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A Veteran's Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly

A Veteran’s Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly
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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.”

Mel Allen

Author:

Mel Allen

Biography:

Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.
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3 Responses to A Veteran’s Sacrifice: Story of Michael Daly

  1. Kelly Stocking November 10, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    What an amazing story…Thank you for sharing it with us. And, Michael Daly…thank you for your service.

  2. Mel Allen November 12, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Thank you Kelly. Michael Daly died a few years ago, but his story lives on: courage and humility. There will be a story to look for in Yankee’s January/February 2013 issue about a remarkable Vermont National Guardsman and before I met with him I had sent him this story about Michael Daly. Everyone who has served in the military can relate to Michael Daly’s feelings of memory and comradeship.

  3. Editor 164th Infantry News December 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Michael’s father, Col Paul G. Daly was, for a short time, the Commander of the 164th Infantry Regiment during the last days of the Americal Division’s battles on Guadalcanal. Previously assigned as Division Intelligence Officer, Daly took command of the 164th on 1 Jan 43 and saw them through the transition to Fiji for reconstitution and refitting until he was reassigned on 15 June 43. The senior Daly then went on to command the 398th Inf Reg’t, 100th Division, in the European Theater.
    The 164th Infantry Regiment, originally North Dakota Army National Guard, was the first US Army unit to offensively engage the enemy (in either theater) when they reinforced the Marines at Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942. On the 70th Anniversary of their march into history, the 164th Infantry Association is still holding annual reunions, prints a newsmagazine 3 times a year, and published a book in 2010.
    I located this article while researching the WWII commanders of the 164th Infantry, which served until 1945.
    The research is turning into a story “The Daly’s: A Family of Courage” . Col Paul Daly was a hero, as was his son, Michael. Another son, 1st Lt T.F. Gilroy Daly served as an Army Ranger in the Korean War. Stories worth telling. Thank you for your article.
    Editor164thInfantryNews@hotmail.com

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