The story of Michael Joseph Mansfield’s prominence in U.S. government and international statecraft begins far away from the esteemed halls of Congress and the foreign streets of Tokyo. Senator Mansfield’s life began in New York City, where he was born to Irish immigrants on March 16, 1903. An unfortunate series of events left his father, Patrick Mansfield, widowed and unable to work. With few options in the city, Mike Mansfield moved with his two siblings and their father to Great Falls, Montana in 1910.
After the United States joined the war effort in Europe in 1917, word of U.S. armed forces involvement began filling the papers in Great Falls. The news fed young Mike Mansfield’s appetite for adventure, but that spirit grew larger as time progressed. In June of that year, Mike left Great Falls on a journey that took him first to the majestic shores of the Pacific Northwest, then eventually back to his birthplace, New York City. In New York, Mike entered the U.S. Navy at the age of 14 using a falsified birth certificate.
Mike Mansfield led a storied career in military service. After two and a half years in the Navy and three wartime deployments on the USS Minneapolis, Mike left the Navy and returned to Montana. With few job prospects and no education beyond middle school, Mike found Montana to be a less welcoming place. He enlisted in the Army and was assigned to Fort McDowell in California. After completing his one-year enlistment, Mike joined the Marine Corps and traveled to China, where he was first exposed to Asia.
When he left the military for the final time in 1922, Mike returned to Montana where he would lead a hardscrabble life in the state’s copper mines. It is also here that he met Maureen Hayes, the daughter of a moneyed family who would become his inspiration and life partner. Maureen was the opposite of Mike in every way. She was well educated and ambitious, a leader in social causes in Montana. Their fateful acquaintance and unshakable love for one another propelled Mike on the path to his eventual success in Washington and on the world stage.
After receiving his master’s degree in history, Mike entered politics at Maureen’s encouragement. He went on to serve as Senate Majority Leader for the longest tenure in the institution’s history, and to represent the United States as the nation’s longest-serving Ambassador to Japan. After he passed away on October 5, 2001, Mike Mansfield was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery. His tombstone reads “Michael Joseph Mansfield – PVT, US Marine Corps.”