Dan Daly


During  World War I  the Marine Corps sent a brigade to fight in France. The beginning of June 1918 saw the Marine brigade attached to the Army 2nd Division, rushed to the front to stem the German offensive, Operation Blucher, that had brought the enemy troops within thirty-nine miles of Paris and caused a sense of panic among the civilian population of the City of Lights.  The Americans held twenty kilometers of the front to the east of the town of Lucy Le Bocage and opposite the German  occupied Belleau Wood, a 200 acre forest which the Germans were using as a jumping off point for new attacks.  Countermanding French orders that the 2nd Division retire and dig trenches to the rear, General James Harbord, commander of the 2nd Division, who would later be made an honorary Marine by the Corps, ordered his men to hold in place.

The Germans attacked on June 3, and were repulsed by heavy Marine fire power.  Retreating French units urged the Marines to retire.  The response of the Marines was uttered by Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 5th Marines:  “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”.  (Captain Williams would die in Belleau Wood on June 18, 1918.)  Over the next two days the Marines repulsed numerous German assaults.

On June 6, the 5th Marines attacked Hill 142, preempting German preparations for an attack.  After a hard fight the Marines took Hill 142, suffering over 325 casualties.  The Marines made the mistake initially of advancing as the French had taught them, in long lines, bayonets fixed, perfect targets for the German machine gunners.  The Marines quickly abandoned this lethal approach and began to attack in squad rushes supported by fire, which proved much more effective and safer.  The 6th Marines to the south, under heavy fire, battled their way into Belleau Wood.

First Sergeant Dan Daly, an 18 year veteran of the Marine Corps, who had earned Medals of Honor in China and Haiti, and turned down promotions to Lieutenant twice, roared to his men as he led them into battle, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” (Daley later recalled his statement as being, “For Christ’s sake, men, come on! Do you want to live forever?” For his actions on June 6, Daly was put in for his third Medal of Honor, but someone in the chain of command thought no man should have three Medals of Honor and instead Daly was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and French Médaille Militaire.  He turned down a promotion to Lieutenant offered to him personally by General Pershing.)  Raised in a squalid New York tenement, he was a cradle Catholic, a Faith which would sustain him throughout a turbulent life.  His bantam physical size proved the truth of the Southern maxim that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

US correspondents flocked to tell the story of the fight the Marines were waging and their accounts made headlines throughout the US.  French correspondents also celebrated the courage of the Marines, and for the remainder of the War any Marine visiting Paris was sure to have his face kissed by Frenchwomen and his hand shaken by Frenchmen.

Published in: on August 22, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dan Daly  
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