A Cause Greater than Self: The Journey of Captain Michael J. Daly, World War II Medal of Honor Recipient

A Cause Greater than Self: The Journey of Captain Michael J. Daly, World War II Medal of Honor Recipient

by Stephen J. Ochs

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A privileged, hell-raising youth who had greatly embarrassed his family—and especially his war-hero father—by being dismissed from West Point, Michael J. Daly would go on to display selfless courage and heroic leadership on the battlefields of Europe during World War II. Starting as an enlisted man and rising through the ranks to become a captain and company commander, Daly’s devotion to his men and his determination to live up to the ideals taught to him by his father led him to extraordinary acts of bravery on behalf of others, resulting in three Silver Stars, a Bronze Star with “V” attachment for valor, two Purple Hearts, and finally, the Medal of Honor.
Historian Stephen J. Ochs mined archives and special collections and conducted numerous personal interviews with Daly, his family and friends, and the men whom he commanded and with whom he served. The result is a carefully constructed, in-depth portrait of a warrior-hero who found his life’s deepest purpose, both during and after the war, in selfless service to others. After a period of post-war drift, Daly finally escaped the “hero’s cage” and found renewed purpose through family and service. He became a board member at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he again assumed the role of defender and guardian by championing the cause of the indigent poor and the terminally ill, earning the sobriquet, “conscience of the hospital.”
A Cause Greater than Self: The Journey of Captain Michael J. Daly, World War II Medal of Honor Recipient is at once a unique, father-son wartime saga, a coming-of-age narrative, and the tale of a heroic man’s struggle to forge a new and meaningful postwar life. Daly’s story also highlights the crucial role played by platoon and company infantry officers in winning both major battles like those on D-Day and in lesser-known campaigns such as those of the Colmar Pocket and in south-central Germany, further reinforcing the debt that Americans owe to them—especially those whose selfless courage merited the Medal of Honor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603448031
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 09/01/2012
Series: Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series , #139
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 296
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

STEPHEN J. OCHS is an instructor in the history department at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, where he holds the Lawler Chair of History and has taught since 1977. He is the author of two previous books.

Read an Excerpt

A Cause Greater than Self

The Journey of Captain Michael J. Daly, World War II Medal of Honor Recipient

By Stephen J. Ochs

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2012 Stephen J. Ochs
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-803-1



April, 1918.

As an officer, Paul Daly was far better at soldiering than attending to administrative details. He had come to France to fight, not to do paperwork! This became apparent to Major Joseph Dorst Patch in late April 1918, when he assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division on the Picardy Front near Cantigny. Inspecting the records of the company commanders of the battalion before visiting them at the front, he noticed that the paperwork from Daly's Company D had more deficiencies than any other. He decided to raise this issue with Daly when he inspected Company D in the field. When he arrived at the company's command post, which lay north of the Bois de Saint-Eloi, he found "a tall, athletic-looking gentleman who greeted me courteously." Daly's men had burrowed into the sides of the ridge but were at that moment taking advantage of a brief lull in what had been relentless, nerve-shattering, and deadly German artillery barrages. The doughboys sat in the sunshine picking lice from their clothes. Patch was about to mention the missing paperwork when the conversation somehow turned to Daly's passion: horses. As Daly told Patch about an Irish hunter with great jumping ability, heavy shelling commenced. The men of Company D immediately took cover, but Daly did not pause in his story, recounting how the horse could jump five feet or better. Patch recalled that it was all he could do not to yell, "To hell with the horse! Don't you know we are being shelled?" They finally did take cover, but when the shelling ceased, Patch found himself listening to Daly's sequel to the story. When he returned to the command post, Dorst instructed the adjutant, who was an old regular and a stickler for adhering to regulations, to take care of the paperwork at battalion headquarters and not to bother the commander of Company D with clerical details. Years later, in his memoir, Dorst explained, "I thought I had met a real front line officer, and future events proved I was not far wrong,"

Because Medal of Honor recipients come from such varied backgrounds and experiences, generalizing about common factors that shape them is difficult. Michael "Mike" Daly's path to heroism began at his father's knee listening to stories about knights and military figures, courage and valor. To the boy the stories had added credibility because they were told by a man who was a genuine hero in his own right. Michael's father, Paul G. Daly, was a successful New York City lawyer, real-estate investor, horse breeder, and highly decorated soldier who had risen to the rank of major in the 18th Infantry Regiment during World War I. Known for great integrity, intelligence, courtesy, and courage, Paul Daly had distinguished himself in combat, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, a Division citation for valor (later converted to the Silver Star), the Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Legion of Honor, and three Purple Hearts. As a boy, Mike loved, admired, and respected his stern, warrior-hero father, whom he viewed as the very embodiment of patriotic gentlemanliness.

Paul Daly was the grandson of Timothy Daly, an Irish immigrant who in 1848, during the calamitous potato famine, had left the town of Muntevary, in County Cork, for New York City. Daly married Ellen Maria Flynn, and the couple had seven children. Daniel, their youngest, later became a successful lawyer in New York City specializing in real estate. The New York Times identified Daniel as "a conspicuous Tammany man" of the 28th Assembly District, an identification that no doubt proved lucrative for him. Daniel and his wife Anna raised four children. Their oldest son, Paul, was born in 1891. After attending the Jesuits' Loyola School in Manhattan, sixteen-year-old Paul entered Princeton University in 1907, certainly a badge of respectability for an ambitious and upwardly mobile "lace curtain" Irish family.

Paul, however, proved a poor student, failing all but one course and leaving the university at the end of the first semester. Despite his brief stint, he nonetheless got on well with his classmates, who dubbed him "Pete" and made it a point over the years to invite him to their class reunions and to report on his doings in the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

In June 1912, Paul entered the United States Military Academy as a member of the class of 1916. The class immediately above his, the class of 1915, later became known as "the class that the stars fell on," with 59 of its 164 members earning the rank of general, the most for a single class in the history of the Academy. Its ranks included two future five-star generals, Omar N. Bradley and Dwight David Eisenhower. But Daly would not remain long at the Academy. Although he once more proved popular with his classmates, he again struggled with math, and also with West Point discipline. In June 1914, for example, he finished 3rd class mathematics with a deficiency and was, in Academy parlance, "turned back" to the next lower class to repeat the year. At the end of the following year he was dismissed from the Academy for having accumulated 104 disciplinary demerits—4 above the maximum allowed—between December 1 and May 31. At the time of his departure he stood 120th out of 145 in class rank. With his strong, chiseled facial features, the tall, dapper young man looked as if he had stepped out of a newspaper advertisement for Arrow shirts. He went to work at Charles Broadway Rouse, a clothing store on Broadway.

Several years later, in April 1917, Paul, along with many of the business and social elite on the East Coast, answered President Woodrow Wilson's crusading call to "make the world safe for Democracy" by enrolling in Officer Candidate School at the Plattsburg Training Camp outside Plattsburg, New York. Believing strongly that "gentlemen" made the best officers, and motivated by a strong sense of patriotism and noblesse oblige, Daly earned a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army in August 1917. He was one of 341 "ninety-day wonders" graduated from the first group of the Officer Candidate Schools established by Congress. Assigned to the 1st Infantry Division (later known as "the Big Red One" for its distinctive patch featuring a red "1" on a shield of khaki), he sailed for France on September 11, 1917. After some additional training in France, on November 20, 1917, he was assigned to the 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division, the unit with which he served throughout the war.

Intelligent, fearless, and unflappable in battle, Daly made an excellent combat officer. Gen. Frank Parker, who commanded the 18th, later characterized Daly's conduct as "courageous at all times," noting that on numerous occasions he volunteered for hazardous night patrols and raids across "no man's land" into enemy lines. Returning from one such raid in March 1918, Daly and a fellow soldier became disoriented, unable to find the designated path through barbed wire. Both embarrassed and nervous, Daly nevertheless remained outwardly calm, all the while praying to the Virgin Mary for help. "A group of stars, low over the ... lines suddenly shone for me with an intense brilliance," he later recalled. "The preparation fire from our artillery lifted, and I went for the stars and right to a gap in the ... wire you could have driven a load of hay through." On May 5, 1918, General Pierre Georges DuPort, commanding the French 6th Corps, commended Daly for his great courage, energy, and skill in conducting reconnaissance patrols. As a result, Daly received a Division Citation (converted to a Citation Star on July 9, 1918, when Congress established that medal) for the "great and splendid gallantry" that he had displayed in leading patrols.

Paul Daly continued his heroism as "a real frontline officer" during the Battle of Soissons, July 1823, 1918, which marked the beginning of the Allied counteroffensive that four months later culminated in the Germans' suing for an armistice. Three divisions, the 1st and 2nd American and the 1st Moroccan (which contained the Foreign Legion), received orders to counterattack the northwest end of the salient that the Germans, during their great spring offensives, had driven into Allied lines as far as the Marne River at Château-Thierry. The Allies intended to cut two roads and a railroad at Soissons that served as supply arteries for German troops in the salient. The loss of those transportation lines would force the Germans to withdraw.

The 1st Division went into battle under difficult and trying circumstances. The men were thoroughly exhausted after having struggled through rain, mud, and darkness along miles of roads clogged by artillery, tanks, and transport. Some troops reached the departure line just as the Allied artillery opened fire for the first barrage and thus had had no time to rest before 5:20 a.m., when they received the word to attack. Nevertheless, both American divisions made remarkable progress, advancing more than three miles on the first day. On the second they renewed their attack, but because the Germans had been heavily reinforced with machine guns and artillery the previous night, the going was slower and more costly.

At the outset of the battle, Lieutenant Daly served as the scout officer of the 3rd Battalion, which would follow the 1st Battalion in the order of battle. On the morning of July 19, during a lull in the action, Daly went out to inspect the ground ahead and to the left. There he came across the 1st Battalion, which had been decimated during some of the heaviest fighting the Americans had yet encountered. Finding all but one of the officers dead or wounded, Daly took command of the shrunken battalion, now numbering only ninety men. He led them on a road that ran through rough and thickly wooded heights to the Château de Buzancy, where, in a lightning-quick attack, they captured 210 German soldiers. Then, with his fifty remaining men, Daly organized an ambush, repelling a counterattack by a slightly larger German force. Daly's much-diminished battalion had reached and held the line of the final objective of the division before any others. Although wounded on both July 21 and 22, Daly refused evacuation for treatment until the regimental commander ordered him to the rear. The advances of October 1918 proved costly to the 1st Division as the Germans fought tenaciously, skillfully taking advantage of the hilly, heavily forested terrain. During that month the 1st Division suffered 7,169 men wounded or killed and 1,713 missing.

Following Soissons, the commanding general of the French 10th Army awarded Daly the Legion of Honor—the highest decoration in France—with the Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroism. In addition the US Army awarded him two Purple Heart medals and the Distinguished Service Cross, the army's second highest military award. Dorst Patch said later, "I really believe his performance at Buzancy was one of the outstanding feats in all of the Division's battles." Others apparently shared his opinion. Daly was twice nominated for the Medal of Honor. The second time, after the war, General Parker appeared personally before the Board of the War Department to make the case that Daly's Distinguished Service Cross should be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. "We have here," he said, "a case of genuine practical heroism, accountable for most important results." The opposition of General R. C. "Corky" Davis in the War Department, however, blocked the award. Within twelve days of the action at Buzancy, Daly was promoted first to the rank of captain and then to major. When asked later why his promotions had come so quickly, he quipped "because, I could speak French and ride a horse."

Soon after the Armistice ending the Great War on November 11, 1918, Daly found himself mounted on a handsome horse—he always loved the cavalry—acknowledging with a salute the welcoming cheers of a crowd as he led the 3rd Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment into Luxembourg, where the residents greeted the Americans as liberators. Along with the rest of the 1st Division, Daly's battalion then moved into Germany and eventually took up occupation duties northeast of Koblenz.

On January 25, 1919, in a letter to Daly relieving him of command of his battalion in preparation for his return to the United States, General Parker included a written testimonial of Daly's service with the 1st Division. "You have been three times wounded and have, from the commencement of your service at the front and consistently thereafter throughout the war been conspicuous for your intelligence, personal gallantry, and leadership.... In my opinion, no member of this Division has done his duty in a more efficient, courageous, and soldierly manner than yourself." When Maj. Gen. Joseph Dorst Patch (ret.) wrote his memoir of the 1st Division, he dedicated it to Paul Daly, taking care to quote words that Parker had once offered in response to a general officer's complaint about "such men as Daly." "With such men as Daly," Parker replied pointedly, "we take our objectives."

In late March 1919, Daly returned to a hero's welcome in New York City as a crowd of fifty thousand filled Central Park and cheered the 27th Infantry (to which he had been attached) and watched as thirty-one men received decorations: twenty-eight the Distinguished Service Cross of the United States Army and three the Croix de Guerre of France. The March 30 edition of the New York Times prominently displayed a photograph of Maj. Gen. John F. O'Ryan of the 27th Division pinning the Distinguished Service Cross on Paul Daly's tunic. Declining French General Weygand's offer of command of a brigade fighting for Polish independence, Daly opted for the life of a civilian.

On December 28, 1920, the twenty-seven-year-old war hero married debutante Mary Madeleine Mulqueen in a wedding held at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and reported in the society pages of the New York Times. Archbishop Patrick Joseph Hayes celebrated the nuptial mass. The wedding illustrated how successfully the American Irish had pursued social mobility, wealth, and respectability through their skillful fusing of ethnicity, religion, and politics. The bride's father, Michael J. Mulqueen, was a successful New York City attorney and a prominent Catholic layman: president of the Catholic Club and, by appointment of Pope Benedict XV, a Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory. Madeleine's maternal grandfather, Thomas F. Gilroy, had served as a former Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall and as mayor of New York City from 1893 to 1894. The redhaired bride was witty and high-spirited but also deeply pious. In the words of one close family friend, Madeleine was straightforward, kind-hearted, and possessed of a sharp "New York sense of humor." She was quick to notice the humorous aspects of life. "She always had a different take on things, very original," and often expressed it with a straight-faced, deadpan delivery that delighted her friends and acquaintances.

After a honeymoon in Europe that lasted several months, the newlyweds took up residence at 21 East 55th Street in New York City. After attending Columbia Law School between 1921 and 1924, Daly opened a law practice in the city. In 1924, Paul and Madeleine Daly moved to a large, two-story colonial house on a farm in the Connecticut countryside off Hull's Farm Road in Fairfield. Residents of the town called it "Daley's Chateau," probably an admiring reference to his exploits at the Château of Bouzancy. They also addressed and spoke about him as "Major Daly" ("Colonel Daly" after World War II), such were his military bearing and reputation and his commanding personality and physical stature.

By occupation Paul Daly was a lawyer, but his great passions were military history and horses. One author described him as "a civilian soldier horseman." He raised and trained steeplechase horses on his farm, and in 1940 one of them, "Mansfield Park," won both the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup and the Meadow Brook Cup. From 1937 until he reentered the army in 1942, Daly practiced law and invested in real estate, but he much preferred going to the track and riding to the hounds with the Fairfield County Hunt Club. He purchased seemingly incorrigible horses and transformed them into mounts suited for fox hunting. The dark, sprawling, paneled living room of the Daly house was filled with easy chairs and lined with bookshelves. Two mounted grimacing fox heads stood sentinel on either side of the oak mantelpiece that framed the oversized country fireplace and bore the stains of burned remnants of Paul and Madeleine Daly's cigarettes.


Excerpted from A Cause Greater than Self by Stephen J. Ochs. Copyright © 2012 Stephen J. Ochs. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Note on Sources,
1 Hero-Father,
2 Born with a Silver Spoon—"Slightly Bent",
3 A Disappointment to His Family,
4 Initiation: D-Day, June 6, 1944,
5 Proving Ground: The Battle of Normandy,
6 Becoming an Officer,
7 The Colmar Pocket: Winter Heroism,
8 The Dragon's Teeth: Assuming Command,
9 "Discipline of Kindness",
10 Götterdämmerung: The Final Battle for Germany,
11 Nuremberg—Medal of Honor,
12 Escaping the "Hero's Cage",
Epilogue: Causes Greater Than Self,
Glossary: Military Units—United States Army, World War II,
Selected Bibliography,


Silver Spring, MD

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