Ultimate Marine: Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly vs. Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune

Carl | June 20, 2013 

Who is the Ultimate Marine’s Marine? A comparison of two Marine Corps legends across three categories: Service (actions while in uniform), Legacy (how their service continued to impact the Corps and the world) and Motivation (esprit de corps and overall badassery)

One was dubbed the “greatest of all Leathernecks” and Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler described the other as the “fightin’est Marine (he) ever knew.” The reputations that once preceded them have since turned into folklore.

Daly and Lejeune served the Corps faithfully for 30 and 40 years, respectively. They each lead men through some of the fiercest battles of World War I.

Son of a Confederate Army captain, Lejeune served many billets from Boston to the Philippines and participated in operations in Panama, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua.

During WWI, the Pointe Coupee, La., native was the second Marine officer ever to lead an Army divisional command (Brig. Gen. Charles A. Doyen was the first). During the war, the French Government recognized him as a strategist and leader and presented him the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. He also received an Army Distinguished Service Medal, as well as the Navy Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Europe.

Daly is one of 19 men in U.S. history to receive the Medal of Honor twice. Despite his small stature (only 5’6” tall and 135 lbs.), Daly stood tall amongst Marines.

His service also took him throughout the U.S. and Mexico to the Pacific and Europe, where his exploits further garnered his reputation.

His decorations and medals include the Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, China Relief Expedition Medal, Philippine Campaign Medal, Expeditionary Medal, Mexican Service Medal, Haitian Campaign Medal, and the World War I Victory Medal. He also received the Médaille militaire, Croix de Guerre, Fourragère from the French government.

Service: Close call, but two Medals of Honor speak for themselves – Daly.

Lejeune dedicated his life to the Corps and was a pillar of professional advancement among Marines. Through his guidance and leadership, the Corps continues to be an elite cadre of professionals.

Lejeune developed what became the Marine Corps Institute in 1919. MCI facilitates the training and education of individual Marines. Today, the program continues to provide opportunities to improve performance and enhance professional military education.

On Nov. 1, 1921, Lejeune issued his birthday message, which continues to be read annually at birthday ball celebrations across the Corps.

Lejeune was the first head of the Marine Corps Association and founded the Marine Corps League, the only Congressionally chartered USMC-related veterans organization in the U.S.

In his honor, five statues, four buildings, a Navy transport ship and one of the Corps’ busiest installations bear the name ‘Lejeune’.

Daly’s legacy is less tangible than Lejeune’s. To this day, he’s still revered for his tenacity as a Marine, and you’d be hard pressed to find a member of the Corps who doesn’t know one of his motivating quotes. Annual awards given out by several Marine Corps organizations bear his name, but when it comes to leaving behind a legacy, Lejeune is matched by few of the Marines in this tournament.

Legacy: Lejeune (pronounced “Luh-JEHRN”).

Lejeune contributed to the Corps in a way few have, or will, but his impact is a more broad and lasting one. He helped to ensure there would be a Marine Corps for the coming decades, but Daly could motivate men to storm the gates of hell.

When Lejeune assumed command of the 2nd Marine Division in 1918, he immediately concentrated on developing a solid drive of infantry, artillery, and engineers, rehearsing his units from platoon to division level, and was not satisfied until every man realized what he was supposed to do. He demanded such perfection from his gunners that his infantry would not hesitate to follow a barrage at almost suicidal distance.

However, Lejeune himself once called Sgt. Maj. Daly “the outstanding Marine of all time.” And who am I to argue with a deceased general?

In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Glen Cove, N.Y., native received his first Medal of Honor for single-handedly defending the U.S. Embassy in Beijing against repeated attacks, inflicting an estimated 200 casualties.

Fifteen years later, then-Gunnery Sgt. Daly earned his second Medal of Honor while on a reconnaissance mission in Haiti. A force of approximately 400 Haitian insurgents ambushed Daly and a platoon of 35 Marines. The Marines, outnumbered and outgunned, managed to push their way across a river to set up defensive positions, but their heavy machine gun didn’t make it. Legend has it that Daly waited for nightfall and singlehandedly retrieved the machine gun to fortify the Marines’ defensive.

As if his previous badassery wasn’t enough, a 44-year-old Daly went on to lead men through WWI. He fought in several campaigns with the American Expeditionary Force in France, earning more combat medals- one when he crawled out under heavy enemy fire and rescued a half-dozen wounded Marines, another when he captured 13 German soldiers, and a third when he single-handedly took out a heavily-fortified German machine gun nest.

Of course, he wasn’t done there. During the iconic Battle of Belleau Wood, after being pinned down by a barrage of German artillery and gunfire, Daly supposedly clenched his weapon, and shouted, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” and led the devil dogs’ charge “over the top.”

Soon thereafter, the U.S. High Command in France received the following telegram:

“Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”

Daly was reportedly offered an officer’s commission twice, to which he replied he would rather be “an outstanding sergeant, than just another officer.”

Marines Blog


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