Life-saving soldier, doctor to be honored on D-Day

Published 10:50 am Friday, May 24, 2024

By Jake McMahon, Bowling Green Daily News

Years before Dr. Daniel McIlvoy saved children’s lives as a Bowling Green pediatrician, he saved soldiers’ lives as a medic on the front lines of World War II.

This year, on the 80th anniversary of his service on D-Day, McIlvoy’s three daughters will represent him in Normandy as he is recognized with an honorary posthumous plaque presentation at the famed La Fiere Bridge.

“Unbelievable. It makes me cry,” McIlvoy’s oldest daughter Mary-Ann Zaya, who now lives in Cincinnati, said of the honor. “Dad was such a kind man, you get that from everybody who met him.”

Zaya, along with her two sisters, Linda Penn and Carol Kersting of Bowling Green, will visit Normandy June 3-10, visiting sites important to McIlvoy and the 82nd Airborne Division with the plaque presentation on June 6.

McIlvoy served with the 505th Parachute Infantry, fighting in Sicily, North Africa and Naples before Normandy. According to Steve Crockett, a WWII historian and Normandy resident, McIlvoy made a difference, “saving quite a lot of lives” during the battle at La Fiere, which saw 254 killed and 525 wounded.

McIlvoy also made history in other ways. Crockett said McIlvoy was instrumental in setting up the triage system of care during the battle and was one of three medical officers in the armed forces to make four combat jumps.

His “neatest” war story in the eyes of Zaya, however, was not part of his original duties. McIlvoy, alongside a soldier named James Ospital, lended a much-needed helping hand to a French family by delivering a baby near the front lines. The baby was named Daniel in honor of McIlvoy.

“If you took a pool of a cross-section of enlisted men as to what (in) their minds constituted the perfect officer, the composite of their ideas would result in a Major McIlvoy,” Ospital wrote during his recollection of the delivery.

The plaque at La Fiere is one of many recognitions McIlvoy has received for his efforts in the war. His accomplishments have been highlighted in books like “The Way We Were” by Belgian author Michel De Trez and “We Wore Jump Boots and Baggy Pants” by Ospital. McIlvoy even earned himself his own action figure, previously sold at the D-Day Experience Museum in Carentan-les-Maraias, France.

“He’s well thought of here” in Normandy, Crockett said. “He’s not without his fan club, shall we say.”

McIlvoy’s impact on the men he fought with was felt long after the war. According to Crockett, McIlvoy kept records of all the medics he worked alongside, sending letters to their hometown newspapers notifying them of their accomplishments.

Following his military career, McIlvoy would make a huge impact on the Bowling Green community as a pediatrician. McIlvoy practiced with Graves Gilbert Clinic from 1948-1980 and was the only pediatrician in town for a 12-year span. According to Penn, McIlvoy would go as far as renting a tractor during inclement weather to treat his patients on house visits.

“He was a loved pediatrician,” Zaya said. “He loved to practice. We would go down to the clinic to see him sometimes and it would be 100 people in the waiting room.”

McIlvoy died in 1998 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

According to Zaya, when Penn worked as a nurse at Greenview Hospital, just having the McIlvoy name garnered instant attention from the people around her.

“When she’d say she was a McIlvoy … they said ‘your dad saved my life,’ ” Zaya said. “Thats what so many people told us about daddy, how he saved their life.”