Death of Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, USMC, Recipient of 2 Medals of Honor

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Death of Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, USMC, Recipient of 2 Medals of Honor

Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, USMC,
Displaying his two Medals of Honor and Navy Cross
Image courtesy of Dan Daly Collection at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections.
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: April 27, 1937

Members of the military who receive the Medal of Honor are rare; but men who receive two MOHs are scarcer still (a total of 19, to be precise). Well, it's my honor to feature one of those men, Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, who died on this date in 1937.


Daniel J. Daly was born on November 11, 1873, in Glen Cove, NY. In his early days in New York City he fought rival newsboys for the best street corners. At the age of twelve Dan became a semipro boxer in sports clubs while still selling papers.

Dan enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on January 10, 1899. He had hopes of seeing action during the Spanish-American War; however, the majority of the action was done, The young man was eventually shipped to the Far East, seeing service with the U.S. Asiatic Squadron. Daly probably saw some action during the Philippine-American War (formerly known as the "Philippine Insurrection").

First Medal of Honor Citation, August 14, 1900

"In the presence of the enemy during the battle of Peking, China, 14 August 1900, Daly distinguished himself by meritorious conduct." – Medal of Honor citation

There you have it; "…distinguished himself by meritorious conduct." Really? That's it?!? [I should point out that in the first 40 years or so of the Medal of Honor, the citations were usually quite short and to the point.] Now, you and I both know there's more to the story than that; so – if I may assume my Paul Harvey voice – here's "the rest of the story."

Peking, China and the Boxer Rebellion

In early 1900, Imperial China was divided into a number of "spheres of influence" that were controlled by several European nations. Whole provinces, ports, and railroads were under the jurisdiction of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. Also involved in the dismemberment of China were Japan, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. [The United States, despite the recent acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, had no interest in the carving up of a nation older than any of the European polities.] Before long, famine struck large parts of China, and rioting occurred. Christian missionaries and their converts were attacked as "third degree devils."

In addition, in provinces near the capital of Peking secret societies began to form. One of these was the "I Ho Chaun," better known to history as the "Fists of Righteous Harmony." They were dubbed "Boxers" by the Europeans. The Boxers began to make nuisances of themselves by their attacks on Europeans and Christians generally, and were themselves attacked by units of the Chinese Imperial Army. However, these attempts to suppress the Boxers were not enthusiastically pursued, for their hatred of foreigners was rife among the nobility, all the way up to the Imperial Chinese throne room.

China's ruler was the Empress Dowager Tzu-Hsi, a fairly conservative ruler that resisted many attempts to reform the Imperial government. Many historians believe the Empress Dowager was highly sympathetic to the Boxers' aims. In June of 1900, the Boxers launched attacks against the Legations Quarter of Peking, where the embassies of foreign nations were located.

After a couple of weeks, the Boxers did not succeed in destroying the "foreign devils," so the Imperial Chinese Army essentially took over the job. Low on food, water, and medicine, low on ammo, low on everything, the residents of the Legations, held out for 55 days. On August 14, 1900 a relief force from the major nations of Europe – and Japan and the United States – stormed the gates of Peking and rescued the besieged residents of the Legations quarter.

Dan Daly's Contributions to the Defense of the Foreign Legation

In May 1900, he was deployed aboard the USS Newark (C-1) for Taku Bay, China, where he landed with other Marines enroute to Peking. During the siege of the Legations, embassy guards set up makeshift defenses in many locations. The U.S. Marines and German forces had been stationed on the Tartar Wall, south of the American Legation.

The Germans and the Americans occupied perhaps the most crucial of all defensive positions: the Tartar Wall (labeled the "Brick Wall" in the map below). Holding the top of the 45 ft. tall and 40ft. wide Wall was vital. If it fell to the Chinese, they would have an unobstructed field of fire into the Legation Quarter. The German barricades faced east on top of the wall and 400 yds. In the opposite direction were the west-facing American positions.

The besieged Legation Quarter in Peking, June 20-August 14, 1900; From a sketch by Capt. John T Myers, USMC, included in book
The besieged Legation Quarter in Peking, June 20-August 14, 1900
From a sketch by Capt. John T Myers, USMC, included in book
"The Royal Navy: From Earliest Times to the Present" (1903)

The Chinese built barricades facing the German and American positions. For many weeks, these enemy barricades were pushed closer and closer to the lines of the "foreign devils." Constant sniper activity, artillery barrages, fireworks, and infantry attacks kept the defenders unnerved and awake.

On the evening of August 13, with Capt. Newt Hall, accompanied by Pvt. Daly, mounted the wall bastion, bayonet-tipped Lee Navy Straight-Pull Rifle in hand (see below). Many U.S. Marines had been pulled from the barricade to build positions to back up the main barricade. After assessing the situation, Capt. Hall left to bring up reinforcements and Pvt. Daly remained to defend the position single-handed.

Model 1895 Lee Navy Straight-Pull Rifle; Standard weapon of USMC, 1895-1913
Model 1895 Lee Navy Straight-Pull Rifle
Standard weapon of USMC, 1895-1913

For the balance of the night, Chinese snipers fired at Daly and stormed the bastion, but he fought them off with well-aimed rifle fire, using his bayonet in hand-to-hand fighting usually outnumbered. He kept up such a volume of fire that the Chinese thought there were more men than just the diminutive private defending the position. Sometime near dawn, reinforcements arrived. In the first rays of the rising sun, they found Pvt. Daly leaning against his defensive position. In the area in front of the barricade, his fellow Marines counted over 200 dead Chinese, helped along to see their ancestors by Pvt. Daniel Daly, USMC.

Second Medal of Honor Citation, October 24-25, 1915

"…for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with the 15th Company of Marines (Mounted), 2d Marine Regiment, on 22 October 1915. Gunnery Sergeant Daly was one of the company to leave Fort Liberte, Haiti, for a six-day reconnaissance. After dark on the evening of 24 October, while crossing the river in a deep ravine, the detachment was suddenly fired upon from three sides by about 400 Cacos [Haitian insurgents] concealed in bushes about 100 yards from the fort. The Marine detachment fought its way forward to a good position, which it maintained during the night, although subjected to a continuous fire from the Cacos. At daybreak the Marines, in three squads, advanced in three different directions, surprising and scattering the Cacos in all directions. Gunnery Sergeant Daly fought with exceptional gallantry against heavy odds throughout this action."

Footnote #1: While serving with Marines in "The Great War" (aka First World War) in France during the battle of Belleau Wood, then-Gunnery Sergeant Daly in June of 1918 performed several more heroic acts, including putting out a fire in an ammunition bunker and silencing a German machine-gun nest singlehandedly. He was recommended for a third Medal of Honor, but instead received the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal. From the French he received the Medaille Militaire. The story goes that General of the Armies John "Black Jack" Pershing offered him an officer's commission; Daly declined, supposedly saying he would rather be "an outstanding sergeant than just another officer." Not bad for man of 45 years of age.

Footnote #2: Daniel Daly retired from the USMC on February 6, 1929. He worked as a bank guard on Wall Street for seventeen years. He died in 1937, and is buried in the Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.

Footnote #3: Daly is credited with saying, "Come on, you sons of bitches; do you want to live forever?" during the battle of Belleau Wood, urging his men into battle. He later told a Marine Corps historian that his actual words were, "For crissake, men – come on! Do you want to live forever?"

USS Daly (DD-519, 1943-1974; Photograph courtesy of
USS Daly (DD-519), 1943-1974
Photograph courtesy of

Footnote #4: The exemplary spirit of Dan Daly lived on after him, as the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Daly (DD-519) was launched and commissioned in 1943. The crew received eight battle stars for service in the Second World War, and another for service during the Korean War. It was sold for scrap in 1976.

Footnote #5: Daniel Daly's Medals of Honor are on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located in Dumfries, VA near the entrance to Marine Corps Base Quantico. The museum, originally opened November 10, 2006, recently underwent expansion and re-opened on April 1. [There is also an exhibit in the museum, using life-size mannequins, depicting Daly's heroic exploit of August 14, 1900.]

National Museum of the Marine Corps, Dumfries, VA; Image courtesy of
National Museum of the Marine Corps, Dumfries, VA
Image courtesy of

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Most Excellent and well written piece. I thoroughly enjoyed the "rest of the story" and was glad to be reminded. I am sure Daniel Daly was acquainted with my other hero of the period, also a two-time MOH awardee, Smedley Butler. We need more of their courage and common sense today, more than ever. Thank you.

Yes, I daresay Sgt. Daly and then-Major Butler knew each other. Three weeks before the attack on Fort Riviere, the Caco rebels attacked a Marine patrol in the vicinity of Fort Dipite. Butler was the commanding officer of the patrol, and Sgt. Daly was a part of the USMC force. During the initial attack, the Cacos shot the horse carrying the detachment's only machine gun, which fell into a nearby stream. Sgt. Daly dove into the stream, rescued the weapon and its ammunition, field-stripped the machine gun and reassembled it. The weapon was instrumental in the USMC attack which drove off the Cacos. For his efforts, Sgt. Daly was awarded his second Medal of Honor.

Actually Dan Daly received 3 Medals of Honor.

Resse White:, actually he didn't. Check the website of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, there are no listings for anyone receiving a third Medal of Honor. If you re-examine Footnote #1 in my post, you'll see that, after his actions in Belleau Wood, he was *recommended* for a third MOH, but the powers-that-be decided on awarding him a Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Cross instead.

He was recommended to a third medal but the declined him saying that it was unacceptable for a man to have 3 MOH.

I interviewed Berlin Thompson the last survivor of Dan Daly's WW1 platoon in 1984.Dan was distant cousin but my father was his exact physical double and he made Sgt.Major in WW2. Dan was tough but had a strong sense of honor and humor. Midnight Mass Dec.241918 Notre Dame Cathedral Paris France Dan got even for no MoH 3.

Hi Justin,
Would you contact me for a collegial chat on Dalys, including Dan.
Sincere regards,
Michael Daley

Yes he did not receive three Medals of honor but was was written up for a third for the battle of Belluea wood but it was declined instead he received the Navy Cross along with the Sliver Star and with a distinguished service cross.

Yes he did not receive three Medals of honor but was was written up for a third for the battle of Belluea wood but it was declined instead he received the Navy Cross along with the Sliver Star and with a distinguished service cross.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.