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Cause Greater than Self

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

Stephen J. Ochs  

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents, List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xiii-xiv

In February 2002, Robert C. Barry, one of my longtime colleagues at Georgetown Preparatory School, in North Bethesda, Maryland, walked into the faculty office and asked me whether Prep had any graduates who had received the Medal of Honor. Bob uses such facts...


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pp. xv

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pp. xvii-xviii

World War II, the so-called good war, continues to fascinate the public even as the “greatest generation” fades from the scene before our very eyes. Certainly the torrent of books, articles, films, museum exhibits, conferences, and oral- history projects over the last...

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Note on Sources

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pp. xix

This book is based on archival research in military and school records and on personal interviews with Michael J. Daly’s family, friends, and associates and with some of the men whom Daly commanded or with whom he served. During several trips...

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pp. 1-4

August 23, 1945: the gilded, chandeliered East Room of the White House. President Harry Truman held the gold, five- pointed star1 slightly away from the chest of Michael J. Daly, the tall, young infantry captain who stood at attention before him in his tan service dress uniform...

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Chapter 1: Hero-Father

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pp. 5-11

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...

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Chapter 2: Born with a Silver Spoon—“Slightly Bent”

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pp. 12-26

Ever the didact, “Major” Paul Daly sought to inculcate what he regarded as the “manly” virtues of patriotism, duty, courage, persistence, and selflessness in his son Mike. Horsemanship thus became an arena for moral instruction and character...

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Chapter 3: A Disappointment to His Family

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pp. 27-42

Mike Daly had not had an easy or successful first year at West Point. He had survived a brush with the Honor Committee and the incessant hazing of the senior cadets (whom he seemed to infuriate continually), but he still faced his old academic...

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Chapter 4: Initiation: D- Day, June 6, 1944

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pp. 43-58

On Sunday, June 4, when Mike Daly and other members of the 18th Regiment came off their ships, they sought the help of the Almighty. There, on the pier, they attended Mass. Behind them lay anchored the LCI(L)s (Landing Craft Infantry, Large) that would take them to Omaha...

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Chapter 5: Proving Ground: The Battle of Normandy

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pp. 59-81

As the battle for Normandy raged, Mike Daly consistently volunteered for the most dangerous assignments: night patrols and sniping. Serving as a sniper was risky business, made worse because soldiers on both sides generally loathed enemy snipers. On one memorable...

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Chapter 6: Becoming an Officer

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pp. 82-90

Mike was not the only Daly who would become a statistic on the lengthening list of US Army casualties during that fall and early winter. Even as General Patch offered Mike a commission as a second lieutenant and agreed to return him to combat as an officer in the...

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Chapter 7: The Colmar Pocket: Winter Heroism

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pp. 91-117

Mike Daly and another man from Able Company trudged their way to Major General O’Daniel’s headquarters for a regimental awards ceremony. On a snowy field O’Daniel presented the medals. Daly and many others admired the stocky...

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Chapter 8: The Dragon’s Teeth: Assuming Command

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pp. 118-130

First Lt. Mike Daly, executive officer at company headquarters, received a frantic call telling him that the attack by Company A on the West Wall had stalled amid tank traps (called “dragon’s teeth”). Worse, the company commander and a lieutenant...

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Chapter 9: “Discipline of Kindness”

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pp. 131-142

Michael Daly’s men showed a willingness to follow him because they recognized him as a superb warrior and also because they felt that he had their best interests at heart. He modeled courage and confidence—an almost insouciant disregard for personal...

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Chapter 10: Götterdämmerung: The Final Battle for Germany

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pp. 143-155

During the last months of the war, as the Allies drove into the collapsing Reich, survival was constantly on Daly’s mind, and on the minds of American troops in general. They faced shattered but often still fanatical elements of the Nazi Party...

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Chapter 11: Nuremberg—Medal of Honor

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pp. 156-169

Daly and his men were so close to surviving the war, so close to the end of the nightmare. One last hurdle remained: dangerous urban warfare in Nuremberg. The city had been flattened by air raids, but the shattered landscape afforded many sites for snipers...

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Chapter 12: Escaping the “Hero’s Cage”

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pp. 170-182

Shortly after 6:30 p.m., Capt. Michael Daly returned to a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Fairfield. Banners reading “Welcome Home, Captain Michael Daly, CMH” hung all over town, especially along Boston Post Road (US Highway 1) in the business...

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Epilogue: Causes Greater Than Self

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pp. 183-201

In the midst of the deep hostility between the Reagan administration and the Soviet Union, Daly received an invitation from Lt. Col. Jared “Jerry” Bates, the young commander of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, 3rd Division, to visit his old outfit, which was stationed...


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pp. 202-204

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pp. 205-208

I have taught at Georgetown Preparatory School, Michael Daly’s high school alma mater, and the nation’s oldest Jesuit high school, for thirty- four years. Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, valued two virtues above all others: gratitude...


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pp. 209-242

Glossary: Military Units—United States Army, World War II

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pp. 243

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-271

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603448031
E-ISBN-10: 1603448039
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603447836
Print-ISBN-10: 1603447830

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 34 b&w photos. 9 maps. 6 figures. Appendix. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Daly, Michael J., 1924-2008.
  • United States. Army -- Officers -- Biography.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Western Front.
  • Medal of Honor -- Biography.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Biography.
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