Michael Joseph Lemhan's family had often predicted that he would live to be one hundred years old and take his place as the oldest living graduate at the nead of the line on the march from Cullum Hall.
That he did not achieve this goal, though he came very close, is our loss— a family’s, West Point’s, and the country’s. Brigadier General Lenihan, last of the Class of 1887, was a selfless officer who gave a lifetime of service to God and to country and set a continued example of West Point’s traditions. He was a fine blend of great ability and spiritual simplicity.
Michael Lenihan’s entire life, from the small Massachusetts town of Hopkinton, through West Point, forty-two years of service, and twenty-nine years of retired life, was an inspiration to all who knew him. His lifetime, from his birth on May 2, 1865, to his death on August 13, 1958, spanned the years from the Civil War to tne Space Age—and he recalled the aftermath of one as keenly as he recognized the potential of the other.
During his Army career, Mike Lenihan served his country in many “far away” places in a variety of capacities. A recitation of assignments and stations reads like a basic history of the growing United States. Upon graduation from the USMA, Lieutenant Lenihan went out to Fort Assinniboine, Montana, then Indian territory; thence to Cuba and the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War; to the Hawaiian Department; and in 1917 to France as a Brigadier General with the 83rd Infantry Brigade. 42nd Infantry Division. While in France with the “Rainbow” Division, General Lenihan participated in the Aisne-Mame, St. Mihiel, Champagne and Meuse-Ar-gonne campaigns.
For his brilliant leadership and exemplary command abilities in the World War campaigns, General Lenihan was decorated by the French Government with the Order of the Legion of Honor, grade of Commander, and the Croix de Cuerre, with three palms. Marshal Petain commended him as an excellent brigade commander "whose clever dispositions and whose fine conduct under fire have contributed to the victory...General Pershing cited him for “exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service” and his division commander noted his “conspicuous service to the cause of the Allies.”
When he returned to the United States, Brigadier General Lenihan, then commanding the 153rd Infantry Brigade, 77th Division, rode at the head of his command in a ‘ticker-tape’ parade up New York’s Fifth Avenue.
In subsequent years, Bainbow Division veterans remembered "General Mike affectionately and continually sent him their greetings and dropped in for visits. On May 2, 1955, the Philadelphia Chapter of the “Rainbow” Division Veterans gave a party, complete with 90-candle cake, to celebrate the General's birthday. Just a few weeks before his death, Michael Lenihan sent a taped message of greetings to the Division’s annual convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, wishing them all well and expressing his regrets at not being able to be with them.
In 1906, when the War Department General Staff was established, Captain Lenihan was one of its first members. Following this assignment, he went to Fort Leavenworth in 1911 where, among other things, he organized and trained the "pickle” class—57 second lieutenants fresh from colleges all over the country. (Of this group, one eventually became a full general, seven major generals, and six brigadier generals.)
In 1917, Lieutenant Colonel Lenihan graduated from the Army War College and, after the war, in 1921, he graduated from the Naval War College—taking full advantage of the highest level military schooling. In addition, he served on the staff of the President, Naval War College, for three years.
A superb, effortless raconteur, General Lenihan vividly recalled the campaigns in France and his other assignments by lively anecdotes, in which “his Irish humor rippled through.” The general’s two children, ten grandchildren and twenty great-grandchildren weie avid listeners to his countless stories.
Michael Lenihan delighted in relating these tales—he loved "the Old Army” and his life in it. In the months preceding his death, he was busy making a tape recording of his recollections of days gone by. These memoirs begin “I remember, I remember...and, in them, he remembers Generals Sheridan and Grant, President Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root, Charles Dawes and scores of others who were intimately connected with expanding America.
Religion played a pervasive, active part in Michael Lenihan’s life and career. Many a Catholic chaplain was surprised at morning Mass to look around and see the general as his altar boy. His devotion to and practice of his religion won him recognition, too. In 1925, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts; in 1926, while commanding the 6th Corps Area, in Chicago, he was a canopy bearer at the International Eucharistic Congress, and subsequently was awarded a Papal Medal as a token of the Church’s appreciation of his services.
After retirement in 1929, and the death of his wife, the former Miss Mathilde O'Toole of Washington, D.C.. in 1934, Michael Lenihan travelled extensively in Europe, especially in Italy, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and sailed to Samoa and back.
In 1938, he married Miss Mina Ward in England, and travelled to her home in New Zealand. Early in 1941, General and Mrs. Lenihan returned to the United States to be at West Point for the graduation of two grandsons—fifty-four years after his own graduation. (In 1950, he attended the graduation from the USMA of a third grandson.) With the outbreak of World War II, the Lenihans settled in Philadelphia, where they lived for the remainder of his life. These were years filled with interest in the comings and goings of two sons-in-law and seven grandsons in the service.
Returning to West Point in 1952 for his 65th Reunion, Michael Joseph Lenihan, the patriarch of a service family, marched proudly near the head of the Long Gray Line. He took the salute of the Corps with pride—pride in his own adherence to the West Point code he had learned many years before. Although advancing years and illness prevented his returning for other reunions, it did not prevent his mind from projecting him periodically to the “rock-bound highland home” that had done so much to mold him and set the pattern for his long and useful life.
In all respects his was a task well done and has merited for him an everlasting peace. He was a fine soldier, a dignified gentleman, a warm human being, and a charitable Christian.
—Michael Joseph Lenihan Greene, Class of 1941