A Front Seat To History

By: Debra Lawless

Charlie and Chuck Daly, who collaborated on the elder Daly's memoir “Make Peace Or Die.” COURTESY PHOTO

In New Memoir, Chatham's Charles Daly Recalls Korea, Kennedy And Life Of Service

One rainy Sunday a couple of years ago, Christine Daly of Chatham was sorting through a century-old box of photos of her husband’s family in Ireland when she made an astonishing discovery.

Beneath the “piles and piles” of photos, she found a “big old tattered Manilla folder” marked “WH.” In it were 200 or 300 typed four-by-six index cards. She immediately knew what they were — a kind of journal her husband, Charles U. “Chuck” Daly, had typed each evening during the dark months he worked in Lyndon Johnson’s White House after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Chuck well remembered typing the cards over the course of a year or so, but he had assumed he had thrown them out or that they had been lost during a half century of moves. When Christine found the cards, the couple’s son, Charlie, a freelance writer, was already back living at home and interviewing Chuck for his riveting memoir, “Make Peace Or Die: A Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares” (Houndstooth Press, 2020). The cards proved to be a “an absolute treasure trove,” Charlie says.

“Make Peace Or Die” opens with a prologue called “Riderless Horses” that covers Nov. 22 to 24, 1963. Chuck was then a 36-year-old member of Kennedy’s congressional liaison staff with a corner office in the West Wing. He was at lunch in the White House Mess on Nov. 22 at 1:30 p.m. when he first learned that the president had been shot.

Those old enough can recall where they were when they learned that Kennedy had been shot. Those who are younger recall the photographs of the Kennedys’ final ride in the limousine and later, of Jackie Kennedy in her blood-stained pink suit as Johnson was sworn in.

Chuck had a stronger reaction to the blood-stained suit than many. In 1951 he was leading a Marine rifle platoon in intense combat in Korea when a fellow marine standing next to him was shot in the head. Far from a laundry or a shower, Chuck spent the next 10 days wearing clothing covered in blood and brain matter.

“Jackie’s dress brought just all of that back,” Charlie says. At the time of the assassination, Chuck was horrified that an innocent family and an entire country should be subject to such violence.

“Make Peace Or Die” is a captivating memoir of a man who saw the worst of combat and came home still determined to serve others. It is also the product of a touching collaboration between a father, 93, and a son, 31, separated by 62 years. Charlie is Chuck’s third son of four, and the elder of his two sons with Christine. Charlie’s oldest brother is 69, and his youngest is 28.

Because of their generational differences, father and son often disagreed on what poem, for example, should be included in a chapter.

“Sometimes we’d just go at it and my mother would be the tie breaker,” Charlie says. Christine says that her son’s perspective “gave the book a more modern vibe.”

Chuck was born in Ireland to a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family on May 29, 1927 — by coincidence Kennedy’s 10th birthday. After serving in World War I, Chuck’s father worked for Royal Dutch Shell, and the family moved to St. Louis at the start of the Great Depression.

In the spring of 1945, at the end of World War II, Chuck joined the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man. He later went through Yale on the GI Bill. He skipped his graduation to marry his first wife, Mary Larmonth. But “I was possessed by the restless and romantic feeling that I ought to pay my country back through further service,” he writes. So he joined the peacetime Marine Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Life changed in 1951 when he was shipped to Korea. It is the six months of his life in Korea, where he earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart in combat, that has left the most indelible memories.

Charlie says that it is as though his father recollects his time in the Marines in color and the rest of his life in black and white. In fact, over a quarter of the book tells the story of Chuck’s Korean War experiences. At one point, Chuck asked his own father when the bad memories of war would fade, and his father responded that “it will take a long, long time, but finally they will fade.”

“As of today, mine have not,” Chuck writes.

Charlie tracked down and interviewed every living person who knew his father during his long, remarkable career. At age 60, in 1988, he became the Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. More than one person has compared Chuck to Forrest Gump, the movie character who popped up everywhere.

Through working on the book with his father, Charlie learned many things about his father’s life. For his part, Chuck termed his time collaborating with his son “extraordinary.” Christine researched photographs for the beautifully-illustrated book

Signed copies of “Make Peace Or Die: A Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares” are available at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham.