The commendation accompanying 1st. Lt. Charles Maloney’s Bronze Star and Purple Heart doesn’t tell the whole story about the terrible time he and his heavy-machine-gun outfit had in the Hürtgen Forest along the German-Belgium border during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
“First Lieutenant, CHARLES E. MALONEY, 01052057, Infantry, Company H, 304th Infantry Regiment, while a member of the Army of the United States, distinguished himself by heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States.
“On 26 February 1945, Lieutenant MALONEY was wounded by enemy artillery fire during an intense barrage. Refusing evacuation, he continued in his duties as Executive Officer of Company H, duties which required him to make constant reconnaissance covering wide and perilous sectors of difficult terrain.
“He continued in his capacity until relieved on 28th February and not until then did he submit to medical treatment. His inspiring devotion to duty and grim determination were an example to his men and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.”
Maloney’s platoon was attached to the 76th Infantry Division, part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army that stopped the German’s largest advance on the Western Front, known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” More than 1 million Allied and German soldiers fought it out in the forest terrain of western Germany along the Belgium border beginning in mid-December 1944 and lasting well into January 1945.
“Our unit was about to go into Germany when the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ started. Our assignment — to clean up what was left of the Bulge,” the 88-year-old King’s Gate Golf and Country Club resident who lives in Port Charlotte, Fla. recalled. “It was damn cold and we had a lot of soldiers with frostbitten feet as we sometimes rode and other times walked through the snow into battle.
“We arrived at the Bulge the day after Christmas 1944. By then the German advance had been blunted. We ended up in the Hürtgen Forest,” he said. “I was moving seven GIs in my heavy-weapons platoon into an area of the forest when the Germans opened up with their 88s. We had a couple of .50-caliber machine guns and some .30-caliber water-cooled machine guns. We were attached to whatever infantry company needed additional firepower.
“This particular night as we took off into the Hürtgen Forest, the German artillery started in on us. It was heavy as all get out. My seven men had all dug slit trenches, but all of a sudden the incoming 88s were hitting nearby, but it didn’t hit me at that point,” Maloney said.
“The guys with me were all in their slit trenches only a few feet away. I was talking to them as the 88s were raining shrapnel down on us,” he said. “I could tell when each one of them was hit because he didn’t talk to me any more.”
The incoming enemy artillery barrage hit the trees above them and the individual 88 shell would explode and fragment into a shower of steel death. To add to their misery it was freezing cold, the coldest winter in half a century in that part of Europe, and dark.
“The sad part of it was this one fellow, who I got to know pretty well. I was talking to him about 4 o’clock in the morning while we were hunkered down in our slit trenches. The German artillery was still coming in. It was rough as hell.
“Anyway, the poor guy was hit and killed instantly by shrapnel. He was the last one of my seven men who died on me that night in the Hürtgen Forest,” Maloney said with tears in his eyes 60 years later. “I was the only one of the eight men to survive, but I had been hit in the back by shrapnel, too. It was a night I will never forget. It was the saddest day of my life.”
When daylight finally arrived and he looked out of his trench, who was the first man he saw?
“The GRO officer (Grave Registration Officer) came over the hill. It seemed so improbable he would show up so quickly like that, but he did,” Maloney said.
His battalion had been hammered so hard by the enemy artillery the night before that there was mass confusion in the ranks the next day. Since he wasn’t badly injured by the Germany artillery, he continued on in the front lines with his unit and didn’t seek medical help for several days.
The young lieutenant gathered up 20 more GIs and his .50-caliber machine guns and took the first town after the Hürtgen Forest disaster. The Germans were falling back; their last big offensive had failed.
It was Maloney’s unit’s job to clear a sector of western Germany that included the towns of Olk, Meckel, Wittlich, Boppard and St. Goor. There was little fight left in the enemy soldiers and scores were surrendering to the advancing Allied forces.
Maloney tells the story of moving into one of these towns with his men — he can’t recall which town anymore — but just as he was passing by a building, three German infantrymen came out of a nearby door and walked right in front of him.
“I put my .45 to one of these guys’ heads and demanded, ‘What English do you know?’
“‘Hello, goodbye and I love you,’ came the reply. Sixty years later Maloney said with a smile while telling the tale, “What else do you need?”
At one point during his unit’s march across Germany in the final months of World War II, Maloney was ordered to establish a holding camp for German POWs in Alsfeld, Germany.
“I had 200 to 300 German POWs that included six German generals and their horses. I got to ride the horses during the two weeks I was in charge of the camp. They were beautiful horses,” he recalls.
His unit continued on further into Germany and by VE-Day (Victory in Europe) Maloney and his outfit had taken a German air base south of Berlin. That’s where they met the Russians who were coming in from the east.
“The Russians who moved into our sector were using all U.S. equipment, Jeeps, tanks, trucks, everything. The only difference was they had red stars on their American-made equipment,” he said.
Two days later he was at Camp Lucky Strike in Le Havre, France, on his way home. He sailed into New York Harbor aboard a troop transport a couple of weeks after that.
Maloney was given a 30-day leave to go home. Then he was to report back to base in Wisconsin where the 76th Division was getting ready to ship out to take part in the invasion of Japan.
It never happened. On Aug. 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and a few days later Nagasaki was decimated by a second A-bomb. World War II was over a couple of weeks later.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, October 10, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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CHARLES E. MALONEY, 92, of Naples, Fla. and formerly of Port Charlotte, Fla. died Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 in Naples.
He was born Nov. 16, 1916 in Wheeling, West Virginia and moved to Port Charlotte in 1982 from Stoughton, Wis. and then to Naples in 2006. Charles was a retired District Sales Manager for Wheeling-Pittsburg Steel Corporation. He was a 4th Degree Grand Knight and a Past District Deputy Director of the Knights of Columbus where he received several awards for his leadership, dedication and continued support of the order. He was former member of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church Knights of Columbus Council, former founding member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church Knights of Columbus Council and former member of San Antonio Catholic Church Knights of Columbus Council all of Port Charlotte.
Charles was a veteran of World War II, U. S. Army.
Survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Martha M. Maloney of Naples, FL; two daughters, Martha Jean Mueller of Eagle River, Wis. and Susan Jane Kugel of Lancaster, Pa.; four sons, Timothy Maloney of Naples, FL, Thomas Maloney of Phoenix, Ariz. and John Maloney of Kihei, HI and Michael Maloney of Stoughton, Wis.; 16 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held Tuesday 1 p.m., Oct. 27, 2009 at San Antonio Catholic Church, Port Charlotte. Military honors and entombment will follow at Restlawn Memorial Gardens, Port Charlotte, Fla.
Published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune from Oct. 26, 2009