Friday, January 21, 2011

Sergeant First Class Martin "Marty" Maher, US Army

I had a chance to watch one of my all-time favorite movies yesterday, that movie being "The Long Gray Line" with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara, and if you've never seen it I highly suggest you rent the DVD and watch it. It's directed by who I think was the greatest director of all time, that being John Ford, and the messages that the movie carries and portrays to the viewers are timeless and oh-so-important, especially in this day and age. The acting is superb, the scenery is wonderful since it was filmed on location at the US Military Academy at West Point, and it was all the more significant and meaningful to me because of my military background, and the fact that I've been to West Point and have walked the areas shown in the film.

Out of all of the things in this movie that impress me, I think the one thing that impresses me the most is the story of the main character, a man you've never heard of but who is a legend at West Point, and with good reason. That man was Sergeant First Class Martin "Marty" Maher (pronounced ma-her, with a very slight emphasis on the second syllable). While the movie does an excellent job of portraying what the USMA is all about - duty, honor, country, devotion, patriotism - it does an even better job of portraying the love and devotion that Sgt Maher had for the Army, West Point, and the United States.

Martin Maher was an Irish immigrant who came to this country in 1898 and got a job as a waiter at West Point. After working there in that capacity for two years, he enlisted in the Army and remained at West Point, serving in various capacities over the years but ending up assigned as a swimming instructor under the Master of the Sword, Colonel Keeler. Not every cadet who came to West Point knew how to swim, but they knew how when they left; Maher made sure of that.

Oh, by the way...Martin Maher couldn't swim a stroke.

He met another Irish immigrant who came to work at the Point, an Irish lass named Mary O'Donnell. He married her and a year or so later they had a son, but the child died a few hours after he was born. Mary could never have another child, so from that point on they both came to look upon the Corps of Cadets as their children, devoting themselves to the cadets and West Point, with Marty leading the way.

He must have done a pretty good job, because he was named an Honorary Graduate of not one, not two, but three graduating classes - the Class of 1912, 1926, and 1928. He also had a role in helping train the class that became known as "The Class The Stars Fell On," the Class of 1915. That class turned out several graduates who would later become household names, with one of them becoming President of the United States. Those two graduates were Omar Nelson Bradley and Dwight David Eisenhower, both of whom attained the rank of 5 star General of the Army, with Eisenhower later becoming President. Out of the class of 164 graduates, 59 of them (36%) attained general's rank.

And Marty Maher helped train all of them.

Marty retired from the Army in 1928 after serving nearly 30 years in uniform, and promptly got a civilian position at West Point, where he stayed for the next 20 years before retiring again, this time for good. All in all, Marty Maher stayed at West Point for more than fifty years!

And he's still there to this day. He lies buried in the West Point Cemetary overlooking The Plain, the large grassy field where the Cadet Parades and Reviews are held. Marty Maher died in 1961, six years after his life story was told in a book called "Bringing Up The Brass" and then made into a movie - "The Long Gray Line."

There's something about both the story and the movie that just touches my heart and soul in a way that I sometimes find hard to portray, and I fear I may have failed in writing this post about it. Sometimes it's hard to explain things like this to people that have never served, never loved something so much as to devote your entire life or the majority of your life to it, to love something so much that you would sacrifice all - including your life, if need be - for it. If you've never served, then you may not fully understand what I'm trying to say, and I don't think I could say anything else that would make it clear.

But if you've served, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, and I need say nothing more.



Anonymous said...

I too happen to be a retired soldier, and as a boy, I considered West Point to be something of a playground. One of the most beautiful playgrounds in the world, I might add. Anyhow, and I was a small boy at the time, I remember when "The Long Gray Line" had its screening at a theater on Broadway in New York. The whole Corps of Cadets was there. At the time, that consisted of about 2,400 cadets. Later, as a young cadet at a nearby military school, I remember entering the gym at the Point, and there was a big portrait of Maher to welcome you.

As a soldier, I and many others wondered just how he managed to pull of spending his whole Army career in one place. His luck and our jealousy.

Anonymous said...

I watched the movie in grade school as an 8 year old. I went home and told my parents I was going to go to West Point. I did. So I lived the experience you talked about. It is real and it is the most wonderful experience in my life.

Anonymous said...

And for those of us that served, and didn't attend or graduate from the Point, it is a heart warming story of all that is good in our country.

United States Army enlisted 1967-68

Thomas Kalbacher said...

After watching this movie I was thrilled to hear when Marty leaves the kitchen near the end of the movie and is informed there is big brass here and he comments must be the superintendent or Wedemeyer perhaps. As I knew General Wedemeyer up until his passing in 1989 I can assure you when visiting the General on numerous occasions he still religiously wore his West Point Robe when puttering about his home in Boyds, Md. Tom Kalbacher USN.

Anonymous said...

I just finished watching the movie for the first time. Very heartwarming story, especially the Irish aspect of it.

And to all of you posters: I thank you for your service!

Barry Shannahan

Anonymous said...

I was in the West Point hospital in 1960 and he would sit up in his bed when we enlisted guys walk by. He would yell out an order and just smile when we were alarmed. He was the talk of the place and everyone wanted to get a glimpse or talk to him.

Larry Swanson
Sometime in 1960

Bill said...

One of the best movies I have ever watched in my life.
I am 66 and a registered nurse and Allied Health Instructor. This move speaks about devotion to God and Country. It also talks about devotion in marriage.
I spent 18 months in Vietnam Nam with the navy helping to pull out Gun Boats out of the river and repair them. I love this country. I try and tell my students to thank everyone they see who has served this great nation of ours. Thank you for all who have served and have posted on this site. God bless you and your family's.
Bill White USNR