Giants Of The Corps: Dan Daly

By Leatherneck Staff - Originally published March 1975

A man needs a good press agent to achieve fame. A catchword helps-a slogan, any idiotic thing that catches the public eye and rings in the public ear.

Thus Sergeant Major Dan Daly, a good Marine who had already won a hatful of medals and was a legitimate hero, might have remained comparatively unknown but for an incident that occurred in "Lucy Birdcage," (Lucy li Bocage) France.

The Marines were taking a terrific pounding on the outskirts of this tiny village at the fringe of Belleau Wood. They were outnumbered, out-gunned, and pinned down, in an apparently hopeless situation. The Germans were throwing everything they had at the hapless Marines. Then Dan Daly made history. He ordered an attack. He leaped forward, yelling to his tired men: "Come on you sons of b-! Do you want to live forever?"

That was the slogan that earned Daly a niche in the hall of fame. The reporters loved him for it. The public acclaimed this Marine who had invented such a lovely battle cry. (Incidentally, that handful of Marines followed Dan Daly into Lucy Birdcage and kicked the Germans out.)

Daly disliked all the fuss that was made over him. He thought that medals were a lot of foolishness. He had already won two Navy Congressional Medals of Honor, one in China, the other in Haiti. Furthermore, he claimed that the reporters had misquoted him.

"What I really yelled," he wrote in a letter to Marine Historian Major E.N. McClellan, was: "For C- sake, men-COME ON! Do you want to live forever?"

But the first version had fired the imagination of the fighting men in France and it was embraced joyously by a hero-worshiping public in the United States.

"How did you get all these medals?" asked the reporters.

"I got 'em," replied Daly pointedly, "for minding my own business."

The reporters persisted.

"Any stiff can go out and win a few medals if he ain't entirely outa luck," explained Daly.

Finally, in desperation, he invented a story that rebounded on him. Instead of baffling the newsmen, it merely added to the growing legend.

"I got my Distinguished Service Cross at Belleau Wood," Daly told them. "I was out there pickin' pansies for my girl in Brooklyn one day when all of a sudden a car come up loaded with brass hats. The officers said: 'Hey, lookut the Marine pickin' flowers. Let's give the poor guy a medal.' Well, sir, they give me the DSC before I could stop 'em..."

The newspaper promptly gave him a nickname: "Devil Dog Dan."

Daly was a natural for publicity. He was a fine figure of a soldier, erect, and military. He was not a tall man, just about average height, five feet, seven inches, and well proportioned. He had a fine, strong, weatherbeaten face, keen gray eyes, firm lips, and very few bad habits. (He didn't drink, but he smoked a villainous pipe, crammed full of cut plug tobacco.)

Daly was a strict disciplinarian, demanding and getting strict obedience from his men, but he was fair-minded. He was one of the most popular NCOs in the Corps, among both officers and enlisted men. Dan had repeatedly turned down offers of a commission.

"Any officer," he said, "can get by on his sergeants. A sergeant has to know his stuff. I'd rather be an outstanding sergeant than a * * * * * poor officer."

That's Dan Daly. Major General W. P. Upshur, who had been Daly's CO, called Dan: "The finest soldier any captain could wish to have."

Major General John A. Lejeune once said: "Dan Daly is the outstanding Marine of all time." And Major General Smedley D. Butler, Old Gimlet Eye, called Daly: "The fightin'est Marine I ever knew..."

Information about Daniel Daly's early life is meager. He was born in Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., on November 11, 1873. It is known that he was a newsboy, that he sold newspapers on Park Row, and was something of a fighter for his weight and size. The record was completed when he enlisted in the Marine Corps on January 10, 1899. He was 25 years old when he signed up. He joined for one purpose: to get in the SpanishAmerican War. But he had hardly finished boot camp training when he was transferred aboard ship and sent to the Asiatic Fleet.

Then the Boxer Rebellion broke out. Hatred against the Christians in China was fanned into open hostility by the I-ho Chaun Society. (They were called Boxers because their emblem resembled a clenched fist.)

In Peking, the capital city of China, hundreds of foreign nationals, including Americans, were besieged by the Boxers. Bloody skirmishes occurred street by street. The staff members of the embassies of all foreign countries had to fight for their lives, joining forces wherever possible. At one time the Americans were fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Germans against the enraged Chinese.

On the evening of July 15, 1900, Captain Newt H. Hall and Private Dan Daly occupied a barricade between the Ch'ien Men and Hata Men gate. It was a good position. Daly volunteered to remain all night and stand guard there while Capt Hall returned to the British compound to get men to fortify the new bastion. Under fire all night, the recruit stood watch along the Tartar Wall. He repulsed attempt after attempt by the Boxers to drive him out.

Details of Daly's bravery on this night, plus other reports of courage and fidelity, were sent from China to Headquarters Marine Corps. On December 11, 1901, Daly was awarded his first Medal of Honor. He was to share, later, with Major General Smedley Butler the distinction of being one of the ony two Marines to win the coveted Navy Medal of Honor twice.

Subsequent duties both ashore and afloat gave Daly more opportunities to distinguish himself. In 1911, while serving aboard the USS Springfield, Daly was commended by both the Secretary of the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. A container of gasoline had exploded and the flames were racing toward the powder magazines. Completely disregarding his own safety, Daly beat out the fire, single-handedly, and had it extinguished before a general alarm was sounded.

During the next cruise, Daly served in Cuba and was with the Marines who went ashore at Vera Cruz during the misunderstanding with Mexico in 1914.

Before he had time to settle back and break in a new pipe the Haitians revolted and dragged their corrupt president bodily from the French embassy and tore him to bits in the street. Because France and a number of other foreign countries were threatening to send troops into Haiti to protect their nationals, Marines were dispatched to the Black Republic. With them was Dan Daly, a gunnery sergeant.

It was here that the Marines began to learn about jungle warfare. Ambuscades and trench warfare were standard tactical maneuvers. Mutilation was the fate of any Marine captured. It was, at that time, the deadliest warfare the Marines had ever experienced.

On one of these mounted patrols through the jungles and hills of Haiti (October 24, 1915) 35 Marines were attacked by some 400 Cacos, the fanatical Haitian natives. The Marines were fording a river at the time and while all of the men were able to make the other shore and scramble to safety, a number of horses were killed. That night the natives again attacked and threatened to wipe out the small defensive force of Marines.

The patrol leader called for the machine gun, but it was learned that it had been strapped to the back of one of the horses which had been shot in the middle of the river. Daly immediately volunteered to get it.

He retraced his way through the jungle, narrowly escaping death from the searching natives on numerous occasions. Upon reaching the river he plunged in with bullets kicking up small geysers of water all about him. He searched each submerged horse until he found the gun, and after cutting the straps, again proceeded to run a gamut of stalking Cacos while returning to the besieged patrol, with the gun now strapped to his back.

Once the machine gun was put into action the natives soon lost heart and gave up. For this and subsequent actions of outstanding bravery Dan Daly was awarded his second Medal of Honor.

One of these episodes, which sounds like a grade-B movie scenario, shows what the redoubtable Daly could do when faced with a problem. Some of his buddies were held in a Haitian jail, sentenced to death. Daly, alone, dug under the jail wall, shot the guards, released his men and guided them back to the outfit.

By this time he was 44 years old and listening hungrily to reports of a new battle. The fighting was still going on in Haiti, but Daly wanted to get to France and take part in the "big show" that was shaping up across the pond. He did not have long to wait and was soon in France as First Sergeant of the 73rd Machine Gun Company. It was here that he won his greatest fame and the bulk of his "hatful of medals." For a time it seemed that everyone wanted to bestow an honor upon Dan Daly. His conduct was, to say the least, outstanding during the first World War.

He extinguished a fire in an ammunition train, wiped out machine gun nests single-handedly with grenades and a .45 pistol, captured as many as 13 Germans at one time, led Marines in a mad charge that put to rout a vastly superior force of Germans, carried wounded from the field of battle under fire, and in general gave the Germans, with whom he had fought side-by-side 17 years earlier in Peking, China, a healthy respect for the American Marines.

Daly was wounded at Verdun, and carted off to the hospital much against his own will. In a few days he was right back in the front lines with his men. His stay was very brief this time. He was wounded again, seriously enough to finish his part in the war. The war ended before he could get back into action. "It wasn't a bad birthday present at that," said Daly, who was born on November 11th.

He had won the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Medaille Militaire, a French Victory Medal with four clasps, and the Croix de guerre. These were in addition to his two Navy Medals of Honor and Marine Corps Campaign Medals.

Daly remained unmarried all his life.

"Life in the Corps isn't so bad-after you get the hang of things," he said, back in 1919. "I'm not married. And I can't see how a single man could spend his time to better advantage than in the Marines..."

But soon after he returned to the States, Daly asked to be placed on the retainer lists of the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve to await retirement. Rather than spend this time in idleness, Daly took a job as a bank guard in the firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Co., on Wall Street, New York City. He held this position for 17 years, and dropped from the limelight which he tried so unsuccessfully to avoid while in the Marine Corps. Occasionally reporters scenting a story came around to see Daly. He told them in a polite way to shove off. "I want no publicity," he said. "All I ask is that I be let alone."

Only two more times was Dan Daly to be bothered with unwanted publicity. Once when he was officially retired from the Corps on February 6, 1929, as a sergeant major, the newspapers again printed his life story. The second time didn't bother Daly at all because he didn't have to listen to the questions: on that occasion, at the age of 64, Dan died in bed of a heart disease.

It took his family an hour to find all of his medals after his death, so casually had he thrown them around the house. He died at Glendale, L.I., New York, on April 28, 1937.

A destroyer was named in his honor. A niche in history, a battle cry, and an unequaled individual record as a fighting man-all these add luster to the life and the memory of one of the outstanding Marines of all time, Sergeant Major Dan Daly.