Sometimes words of one there carry such power that you cannot improve upon them. Sometimes the example of a good man says more than any well-intended guidance. Father Maloney was there, with “Wild Bill” Guarnere. Their actions and words echo. Come and listen.
Both men were in the 101st Airborne, first division to jump into Germany in WW II, 506th parachute infantry regiment, “E” or Easy Company, 2nd platoon. That was June 6, 1944. But July 1, 1944, is also a special day. You will see why – in a moment.
The 506th and Easy are famous because Steven Ambrose wrote about them, Tom Hanks produced a series on them, Band of Brothers, chronicling their spirit – from D-Day in Normandy through war’s end. But that is not what makes July 1 special, not for these men.
The stories Ambrose and Hanks tell are powerful.
But there is more. Bill was a rough Irish Catholic from Philly. So was Ed “Babe” Heffron, another Easy paratrooper. They talked daily most of their lives. Bill liked talking. Babe liked cigars.
Bill and Babe – in the crucible of WW II – were close to Father Maloney, another Irish Catholic military chaplain. That closeness is what makes July 1, 1944 – so special. You see, the fighting these men saw was beyond description. Bill lost his leg trying to save another paratrooper, Joe Toye, who had lost his leg. That was Bastogne. Germans thought they had it. But young men like Bill, Joe, and Babe thought differently. Both men were expected to die. Both lived.
In the years ahead, the men of Easy who returned were honored. As time passed, Bill and Babe decided some details deserved further mention, so they wrote a book in 2007. They called it “Brothers in Battle – Best of Friends.”
As with most combat veterans, they were self-effacing, concerned to recognize those who did not come home. They were proud of America, those who defend Her – especially under pressure. That is what brings us to Father Maloney.
His full name was John S. Maloney. On D-Day – June 6, 1944 – he was 32, older than most, young by modern standards. He was their regimental chaplain. He wore glasses, rather uncommon for a paratrooper. On that day, he jumped under fire, soon among dead and dying.
A citation reads: “He assisted medical-aid men in administering first aid to the wounded under intense enemy machine-gun fire …further assisted in their evacuation under continuous mortar fire,” and his “fortitude, initiative and courage exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States …” He was unbroken, giving aid and praying with those around him.
In the series, he is seen moving among the wounded under intense fire. “Wild Bill’s” memory is clear, laid out candidly and with warmth. The role of military medics and chaplains seldom gets attention – but speaks volumes to who we are, who aim to be, who we pray to be, who they are.
This is where words of those there cannot be improved upon. This is where love meets ink, by grace our eyes. Writes Bill of Father Maloney in the horrific battle of Carantan, a life-and-death effort to link Omaha and Utah Beaches, preventing the Allies from being pushed into the sea:
“Everyone was running … smoke everywhere … it was chaos. Everyone’s screaming for medics. Father Maloney ran around giving last rights … He had no weapons on him, just carried a cross. He was all over like a ghost, running in and out. If you were fighting and not hurt, you didn’t pay attention to what he was doing at the time, but if you got wounded, and you didn’t know if you were going to survive, his presence was important.”
Bill is no sentimentalist, but when it comes to Father Maloney, he talked gratitude. “Thinking back, he inspired the men; it was like having the Lord himself come down to visit you. You know you’re not alone; someone cared for you.”
Some never forget. Some are never forgotten. In 2007, Bill wrote: “When Father Maloney died twenty years ago, I went up to New York … helped bury him. I had flowers made up into a Screaming Eagle [for the 101st], three feet high and two feet wide, and put it by his side … The chaplains and the medics were the real heroes.”
Men of Easy Company, America’s paratroopers, and those who served in their day and at that place did what they had to. They won the day at Carantan, linking Omaha and Utah beaches – where the Americans landed. Then they closed another gap, uniting Americans with British and Canadians who had landed at Sword, Juno, and Gold, defeating multiple Panzer divisions.
And about July 1, 1944? What was so special about that day, on which the sun rose after victory at Carantan’s “Battle of Bloody Gulch,” where Father Maloney had moved “like a ghost” – indifferent to machine-gun fire, administering hope, prayer, and last rights to men in need?
Well, that was the day America paid tribute to his selfless service.
That was the day, as Bill records, Father Maloney “was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Normandy.” The award is for “extraordinary heroism,” second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. On July 1, just worth remembering men like Bill, Babe, Joe – and Father Maloney.
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