Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?
- Dan Daly to his men, Belleau Wood, France, June 4, 1918
Daniel "Dan" Daly (1873-1937), Legendary US Marine
One of only two US Marines in history to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice, Sergeant Major Daniel J. Daly, USMC, is best remembered today for uttering one of the most famous battle cries of all time, exhorting his outgunned and outflanked men to charge a German machine gun nest during the Battle of Belleau Wood by demanding to know if they wanted to live forever.
Daly's record was already astonishing enough to secure his immortality in Marine lore even before his famous 1918 charge. Born on November 11, 1873 at Glen Cove, Long Island, survived a rough and tumble childhood on the streets of New York City, before enlisting in the Marine Corps on January 10, 1899. His professed reason for joining was to fight in the Spanish-American War, and although he missed out on that skirmish by several months, Daly was destined to take part in many future conflicts all across the globe.
Initially deployed with the Asiatic Fleet, Daly soon found himself shipped to China in May of 1900 as part of a small contingent of marines charged with protecting the besieged Peking legations during the Boxer Rebellion. By mid-August, the legation's defenders had been driven back to desperate last-stand defensive positions centering around the old city wall. Along with a certain Captain N.H. Hall, Daly undertook to defend a solid position on top of the wall between the Ch'ien Men and Hata Men gates, armed only with a rifle and a bayonet. On August 14, Hall left the position to get reinforcements, leaving Daly alone on the wall. That night, Daly was subject to constant sniper fire, and single-handedly held off several charges by the enemy until Hall returned with reinforcements the next morning. For this action, Daly was awarded his first Medal of Honor.
After seeing action at Vera Cruz during the Mexican-American conflict of 1914, Daly's next fought with great distinction during the first US occupation of Haiti in 1915. On October 24, Daly was part of a patrol of 35 Marines that was ambushed by about 400 of the bandit Cacos while making its way through a deep ravine. With great effort, the marines fought their way to higher ground and a more defensible position, but while crossing a river under heavy fire, the patrol was forced to abandon several horses, including the one carrying its only machine gun. During the night the patrol was subjected to continuous fire, and the patrol commander called for the machine gun. Daly promptly volunteered to return to the river and retrieve the weapon. Making his way back past enemy positions, Daly located the dead horse, cut the gun away, strapped it to his back, and returned to the patrol's position. The next morning the patrol broke free in a daring assault on the Caco positions, and Daly earned a second Medal of Honor for his invaluable contribution.
In November of 1917, Daly, by then 44 years old, was shipped off to France to fight in World War I as a first gunnery sergeant in the 73rd Machine Gun Company. His many actions in France would earn him several medals. On one occasion he single-handedly charged and captured a German machine gun position using only a .45 pistol and some hand grenades. Another time, he single-handedly captured 13 German soldiers in the course of a single day's fighting. It was in June of 1918 that Daly's company was pinned down by German machine guns near the town of Lucy le Bocage on the outskirts of Belleau Wood. Outnumbered and outgunned and facing the prospect of gradual attrition and eventual annihilation if they held their position, Daly ordered a frontal assault on the enemy guns. Leaping to the fore, Daly shouted to his men, "Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?" Daily would later clean up the language a bit for the history books, telling the marine historian that what he really yelled that day was, "For Christ's sake, men, come on! Do you want to live forever?" Either way, the men were so inspired that they not only overran the German position but captured the entire town of Lucy le Bocage, and ever after Daly's daring challenge has been upheld as the epitome of Marine spirit and bravado.
Despite the measure of fame his exploits earned him, Daly was never a glory hound and shunned publicity he viewed as undeserved. In his own words, the "hatful of medals" he had received were "a lot of foolishness." Similarly, he refused officer's commission on several occasions on the grounds that he would rather be "an outstanding sergeant than just another officer." Nevertheless, Daly was proud to have been a Marine. Having never married, he declared in 1919 that, "I can't see how a single man could spend his time to better advantage than in the Marines."
Following World War I, Daly was put on the reserve list, and took a job as a bank guard on Wall Street, a position he held until his death on April 28, 1937. All told he had served on seven different Navy ships, and in addition to combat in China, Mexico, Haiti and France, had served in Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and eight United States postings. Major General John A. Lejeune, at one time the Commandant of the Marine Corps, once declared Daly "the outstanding Marine of all time," while Daly's friend and comrade-in-arms General Smedley Butler (who was incidentally the only other marine to receive the Medal of Honor twice) deemed Daly "The fightinest Marine I ever knew," and declared that "it was an object lesson to have served with him." These are mighty high words of praise, but Daly, whose combat record remains unequaled in the annals of Marine Corps history, certainly seems to have earned them.
Today, a US Navy destroyer, the largest class of ship that can be named after a non-president, bears Daly's name in honor of his heroics.