On 10 June 1918, during the Battle of Belleau Wood, 44-year-old Marine Corps First Sergeant Dan Daly, armed with a pistol and hand grenades, single-handedly attacked and destroyed an enemy machine gun emplacement.
It was the kind of action from which legends are born, but it was not even Daly’s most famous action that month. He is better known for his battle leadership four days earlier, when he urged his 73rd Machine Gun Company forward with words now legendary in the Marine Corps: “Come on, you sons of *’s; do you want to live forever?”
Marine Corps tradition holds that the term “Devil Dog” was coined when someone in the German high command asked of the Marines on that same battlefield, “Wer sind diese teufelshunde?” (Who are these Devil Dogs?)
There is some doubt as to the veracity of the quote, but there is no doubt that Dan Daly, all five-feet-six-inches and 130-some pounds of him, proved the adage, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Daniel Joseph Daly was born on 11 November 1873 in Glen Cove, New York. Not much is known of his formative years except that he sold newspapers and was good with his fists. He was 25 years old when he joined the Marine Corps on January 10, 1899, with the idea of serving in the Spanish-American War.
By the time his basic training was complete, the war was over, and he was instead assigned to the Asiatic fleet. It wouldn’t be long, though, before he saw action.
In May of 1900, in the midst of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, Daly was part of a Marine contingent sent to Beijing when the Boxers laid siege to the international compound there. On July 14, about midway through the siege, Marine Captain Newt Hall was ordered to build a barricade to expand the U.S. position.
He took Private Dan Daly and went forward to reconnoiter the area. Captain Hall then returned to gather men and materials to build fortifications, leaving Daly to defend a critical position on the Tartar Wall alone with just a rifle and bayonet.
Recognizing the tenuous position he was leaving Private Daly in, Captain Hall told Daly that he could not order him to stay there, to which Daly reportedly replied “See you in the morning, Captain.”
During the night, as Captain Hall had feared, the Chinese repeatedly attacked Daly’s exposed position on the wall, but Private Daly prevailed, and when Hall returned in the morning with reinforcements, the ground in front of Daly’s position strewn with enemy dead.
Private Daly was awarded his first Medal of Honor for his actions that night. The citation simply reads, “In the presence of the enemy during the battle of Peking, China, 14 August 1900, Daly distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.”
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