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In May 1945, Bob Maledy sat down and recorded his memories of his time in the 922nd Engineer Aviaiton Regiment. His recollections give a first-hand view into the life of a soldier in an aviation engineer unit from training camp, first posting overseas in England, the Normandy invasion and the march across Europe.
Copyright © 1945, 2004 Bob Maledy
Bob Maledy Memoirs
MAY 21, 1945
Now that the war with Germany is over, and censorship rules have been lifted to a certain extent, I will attempt to put on paper, the places I have been since I left Geiger Field, Washington, I have never kept any record of any kind so the dates will be guesswork where I can't remember exactly.
Combat training and all the other necessary things was finished, also furloughs for most of the company and at that the time 922nd had quite a reputation at Geiger. Colonel Park was the Commanding Officer and one of the best, we thought he was almost inhuman the way he gave us such hard training, but later on some of us appreciated it. There was quite a celebration when we were ready to board the train. The Air Force Band was there to march us to the train, and also the Commanding Officer of the field was there to give us a little speech. This was about Aug. 5, 1943, the best I remember the ride was 5 days and wasn't very nice because we had guards on the train and when it stopped in some town guards were posted at every exit and we were not allowed to talk to civilians, and if the stop was over 10 minutes the Colonel had us out double-timing around the station or up and down the tracks. The trip took us clear across the U.S.; back as far as Chicago. I just backtracked the trip I had just taken when on furlough. From there we took a pretty direct route to Camp Miles Standish, near Taunton, Mass. I remember we pulled in there about 4:00 O'Clock in the afternoon and they had a band there but that was customary for all incoming trains. We were lucky and didn't have to go far to the barracks and that was a piece of luck because at that time we were carrying everything we owned on our backs, and that was heavy. Just as soon as we moved in we were restricted to our quarters and couldn't even go to the P.X. They had to do what they called Process us and that consisted of one "dry run" after the other (Dry run is a full dress rehearsal of the real thing). We had clothing checks and roll calls until I didn't think I could face another one. And in between times we were having last minute lectures, movies on first one thing then the other. Once in a great while they would give us a hour to go to the P.X! Things like that went on for 7 days. Oh yes they did finally give us passes, to Taunton, Providence, or Boston, but to go to the two latter towns you used up all your pass time so I didn't go. I was in Taunton twice. Finally about 11 O'Clock one morning we got the order to fall out in the street in a few minutes all ready to go, so after the usual waiting around we marched down to the train and loaded again.
We knew we were going to the boat but thought we would load on at Boston but we went right to New York. The train pulled into the Penna. Station but naturally we didn't get off. It soon went on out of the city and into New Jersey, and I never have been able to figure out just what happened but we unloaded out on a little strip of land just across from New York, they shoved us onto a open to ferry and it headed for New York. Some of the local boys knew where we were going but most of us didn't. It was dark by this time, and there weren't very many lights on the sea coast. Finally we pulled up to a pier, with another Band playing. Also there is where we could see the front of our boat. All we could see was the name, and that made us all pretty happy because it was the Queen Elizabeth. We unloaded marched inside this warehouse, and just stood around for a while, all the time Red Cross women were giving us Coffee and Chocolate bars. In just a little while we loaded on. Still couldn't see the boat because we just stepped out of one door right into a place that looked like the lobby of a large Hotel. They took us out onto an open deck, and told us to make ourselves comfortable. All the time since we left Wash. every where we went we were wearing a full field pack, wearing our steel helmets, carrying rifles and one barracks bag of clothes so you can imagine how uncomfortable we really were. We got on the boat about 10 O'Clock at night on the 19th of Aug. Well we slept right there on the deck all night. Next morning about 6 we went down to the dining room and ate. At exactly 10:00 A.M. 20th of Aug. 1943 the engines started and some tugs pulled us out in New York harbor, and of course every man wanted a place by the rail so he could see. So it was a little crowded. I was lucky tho and had a place. We went pretty close to the Statue of Liberty, and it wasn't very long until we were out of sight of land. After we were out 2 or 3 hrs. they must have given her full throttle because it just reared up like a speed boat. You wouldn't think it possible to get so much speed and manuver a big boat like that. We went all the way across by ourselves, alto we had Plane escort for 2 days out.
Gordon Farr and Bob Maledy, France 1944
It's going to be hard to describe the trip over because to me it is like a nightmare, There was about 20,000 men on the boat. We spent one day and night up on the deck, sleeping on the floor and just laying around all day, then we would take all our stuff and go down to the staterooms for 24 hrs. and that wasn't much better that topside. We had a room that was originally made for 2 people and there was 9 bunks in it. A nice bathroom for two rooms, they had hot water to wash in (salt water) and for drinking water we had to wait in a long line and you could only get it twice a day. The first couple days it was so hot you couldn't live. Then by that time we were away up in the North Atlantic and it was so cold we were freezing. We ate two meals a day and they weren't fit to eat. You see the Elizabeth is a British ship and they had Limeys for cooks and crew. And I think we were eating British food because it wasn't fit to eat. Most of us half starved. We passed a couple miles from North Ireland on the morning of the 5th day and at 4:00 O'Clock P.M. 25th of Aug. we dropped anchor in Glasgow, Scotland. The next morning at nine we started unloading into small boats that took us in.
Then was the first time we got to see the boat we were in, and it was a beautiful ship. And there on the pier in Scotland was one of the Scottish bagpipe bands playing. There was a train right there waiting for us, and while were waiting to load on Scottish Red Cross girls were giving us cakes and Tea. There is where we got our first look at the funny English trains. The cars are much smaller than ours and are divided into separate compartments with a door leading in from the side of the car for each compartment, and along the other side is a very narrow isle to move from one end of the car to the other. The best I remember we finally left there about noon and started south.
We had C Rations to eat, and somewhere late that afternoon, Newcastle I believe they let us off the train and the English Red Cross gave us a little packed lunch. I remember after dark somewhere they told us not to have any lights of any kind because the Jerries sometimes like to bomb and strafe trains. So with us just fresh overseas we were plenty scared, and sure enough a few planes came over and we could see all the ack ack and did see a couple bombs fall, but a long ways off. Most of us finally went to sleep setting up.
They woke us about 4 in the morning and we were told to unload, and there were a bunch of trucks waiting for us. They took us to our first camp in England. Birch a very small village about 8 miles from Colchester, Essex, I believe it was south. We moved into brand new Nissen Huts, and the first night there I was on guard and I must admit I was scared, I don't know why. In a few days we started going after all out equipment, trucks etc. I made a couple trips to Grimsby, which is up on the North Sea. Also made a couple trips to Liverpool. While at Birch we all bought bicycles and every evening we could out and ride around. And there was where we had to learn how to use the English money which was quite a task. On our days off we took a truck to Colchester, That is quite a town and we had a lot of good times there.
We moved to Wormingford next which was about 8 miles the other side of Colchester so we still went to Colchester on pass. While we were at Wormingford I got my first truck and went on Detached Service, and that was at a small place called Raydon. I used to go to Ipswich occasionally. Also made my first trip to London from there.
Around the middle of Nov. we moved to Wethersfield, still in Essex County, and from there we went to Braintree on pass. But there were so many air fields around there that the town was run over with G.I.s I had my first London Pass from there. When we first went to Wethersfield we were in Nissen Huts but finally the airdrome was completed and the Air Corps moved in so we had to move out. So we pitched tents on the same field and moved into them the first week in Jan. 1944. Something else I forgot. I remember this date as well as if it were yesterday. It was Dec. 10 1943. I think if you kept it I wrote a letter that night and told you to keep it.
At that time we worked until 6:30 every night and it got dark about 4:30 so it was dark when we ate. We were eating when the air raid sirens blew so we had to finish our supper in the dark. Most every one was on their way out, and back to the Co. area when the flares started dropping. Also the make it worse that night the moon was full and almost as light as day. My self and a few others were standing outside watching the flares when we saw the planes, so we soon hit for the air raid shelter, an open top job, so we could still see. They were throwing every thing they had at them. They were shooting back, dropping bombs, and flares. As this was our first experience we didn't know what to do. One plane was so low that I could look up and see the numbers on it and I just knew that my time had come. But luckily no one in our outfit was hurt. We had about a dozen bombs on our runways tho and the field next to us really took a beating. They made a direct hit on the Aero-Club with a 2000 lb. bomb and several were killed. They also strafed the Theater and the living quarters. That was one of our battalions that was there.
I remember that on April 1st we made our first long move in England. We went to Great Barrington which is about 24 miles from Oxford (North I believe). From there we went to Oxford on pass, and Oxford is a very beautiful city. Also in my travels I used to go through Cambridge a lot and it was a very beautiful city. Great Barrington was the last place we were stationed in England. That was where we did last minute preparations for the invasion. The company was divided into 3 sections, the first one being a skeleton co. Most of it was composed of the most important men in the company, but with me it was just that my truck was going. So we had to go to work and water-proof our trucks, because they planned on an amphibious landing. And you talk about work that was it. They had developed a special composition that you could put on various part of the truck and it would run under about 6 ft. of water. And there are a million places that have to be water-proofed and it has to be good. We finished a few days before the invasion so there wasn't much to be done, so they let us take it pretty easy.
Gordon Farr and Bob Maledy at the 1991 Reunion of the 922nd EAR
Early in the morning of the 13th of June we pulled out in convoy for the jumping off place for France. That was Southampton, and it was quite a drive from where we were. At that time traffic was regulated and convoys were run like train schedules. So we had to maintain a certain speed, and I think that was 8 miles per hour so you can imagine how tiresome that drive was. Let me jump back a little. Now when I got up at 6 O-Clock the morning of the 13th that was the last sleep I had until I mention it. We pulled into a marshalling yard at midnight. Finally got a hot meal and they made us go back to our trucks and finish water-proofing. You see there was a lot of last minute things that had to be done. It took until about 3 in the afternoon to finish. I grabbed my stuff and took a shower, and was ready to lay down and take a nap when they told us we were to be ready to leave at a certain time.
The one good thing about is that that morning the Colonel called us into a bldg. and told us exactly where we were going and what to expect. They also gave us a carton of Cigarettes, some Chocolate bars anti-seasick pills, and also they gave us a partial pay in French Francs. About 6 or 8 dollars I think. Also all us drivers were given a map with our destination marked on it, in case anyone got lost.
It was about 6 O-Clock that we were supposed to be loaded and ready to go. For the landing we were to wear our impregnated clothing that was for gas attack. They were regular fatigues that had been treated with something that sure didn't smell good. And they irritated your skin. So that was uncomfortable. As I said everything was run on a strict schedule. We drove down the road about a mile and proceeded to wait. We sat there until Midnight and drove about 5 more miles to the loading platform and were told to wait and follow the truck ahead of you. So there wasn't any lying down to sleep, but I did doze off occasionally. I was so tired by this time that it didn't make any difference any more. A little after daylight the convoy started moving. I would drive up a truck length and wait 30 minutes etc. until it was about 11:30 before I got to the boat. It was a L.S.T. (Landing Ship Tank) and they are fairly large we had to back down this steep runway to the waters edge then back up the ramp into the ship. And you had just enough room for your truck because they used every possible inch. The first thing I had to do was get a bunch of chains and tie my truck down so it couldn't move around in case the channel got rough. It was a little after noon then so I went up the mess hall on the ship and had one of the best meals I had had since I left the States. For on thing real American ice-cream and the first white bread I had had. I went up then and washed and shaved, and a Sailor could see that I was pretty tired, so he took me to his bunk and told me to sleep; that he wouldn't need it until the next morning. And that's just what I did. I must have practically died in that bed.
I woke up the next morning and we were in motion, but they told me we hadn't started until early that morning. I spent the rest of the day just walking around and talking. Got to bed pretty early, and woke up early the next morning with the ship really rolling and pitching, and a lot of the guys were sick, but it didn't bother me a bit. Right after breakfast some of us were out on the deck just looking around, watching the other ships and something exploded behind us. And come to find out the ship that was beside us had stirred up a mine, but it didn't explode until the ship was over it so it didn't hurt anything. Then just a few minutes later we were watching the ship on the other side of us when it hit a mine, it must have hit the propeller because it blew the whole back end off of it; also killed a few men. It was a pitiful sight to see men thrown up in the air and see them fall in the water. It didn't sink but it had to be pulled in.
About 9 or 10 we saw France. We pulled in to about a half mile of the beach and waited, and we watched the operations on the beachhead all day. They were blowing mines on the beach all day long. At first we thought that it was incoming artillery shells. At that time of year it doesn't get dark until almost midnight. At about 9 that night our ship started up and rammed the beach at high tide. Then we were to wait until the water wasn't over 4 ft. and then leave. They lowered the ramp and kept measuring the water. Finally the Captain of the ship gave the word, and the first thing off was a D-8 Cat pulling a 20 ton trailer. The Cat was waterproofed like the trucks, but something happened that they hadn't expected. One of the mines had made a crater just out from the end of the ramp and the Cat practically went out of sight, but it came right on out. But they thought it better if we wait till the tide went out some more. So when we actually unloaded we went out in about 2 feet of water. So all those day of work we spent waterproofing our trucks was wasted. As soon as we got out of the sand we stopped because there were a few places that had to be dewaterproofed, but the officials wanted us to get off the beach quick, so we really didn't get to do all that we should.
Every night at about the same time, about 11:00 O-Clock the Jerries came over and dropped everything they had. It was almost dark by the time we started, and all the lights we could have were our "cat-eyes" and they are just two pin points of light, just marker lights, and at that time it was as dark as the inside of your hat. And with all the waterproofing around the spark plugs, distributor, our trucks were hardly running, and we had to keep up with the truck ahead of us. That was a job within itself, but we no more than started moving that (to put it mildly) all Hell broke loose. The nightly raid had started, and the Americans threw everything they had into it. Every machine gun and Ack Ack gun on the Continent opened up at the same time. And the Germans were dropping flares all over the place also a few bombs. We kept going and it was better driving for the simple reason that it was light as day. I had on my truck a 50 Cal. Machine gun with a lot of ammunition, about 300 lbs. of T.N.T. and something that is against army orders, about 50 caps that you use to set off T.N.T. If one piece of flack had hit in the right place I would still be going. We had our tops off and the windshields laid down. So we had nothing over our heads for protection. And one of the most dangerous things during an air raid is our own pieces of flack coming down. One of the guys got a piece right down his shin bone. And that was all the trouble we had. But that night kinda showed who was the roughest and toughest.
Where we made our first camp was about 5 miles from the beach, and at that time the front wasn't very far away, and there were lots of Snipers left in that vicinity, and they still continued to have those nightly visits of the Jerries. Where I had my pup tent pitched was about a 100 Yds. from a Battery of 90 Millimeter Anti-aircraft guns and when they sounded off they shook the ground. And after the first night I slept right through them. That's one thing I am thankful for; I can sleep under most condition. We stayed there about 7 days, and I hadn't even unloaded my truck so all I had to do was pull guard every other night. And that was plenty scary. We had double guards, 2 men on a post. There was a lot of guards being found dead the next morning from these snipers I told you about. One night I came awfully near shooting one of our own men but it would have been his fault. He halted but wouldn't give me the pass word, and I was in no mood to mess around. Finally he spoke up, and come to find out he was so scared he couldn't talk for a minute. And I was worse than he because I had already clicked off my safety and was ready to let go. There was a million things going through my mind.
7 days after we landed the second part of our outfit got here. Then we moved to Vaubadon, which was near Balloroy, and when we first moved there we were practically on the front lines. Two or three times the Germans got brave enough to come over in the day time and strafe, but luckily we were pretty well camouflaged and no one got hurt. We stayed there for quite some time, and while we were there I was driving every day; going down toward Cherbourg, near St. Mere Eglise. I went through Carentan and at that time the Germans were still shelling it. and then started going up toward St. Lo and there was plenty of fighting there. I remember one day the line moved up about a mile. and the outfit found out about some lumber up there. So I took a crew of men up to get it. Then was when I saw my first battlefield with all the dead still laying just like they fell. And at that time it was hot and it didn't take long before a body started to smell. That was the most terrible thing I ever want to see. Our Survey crew was up there with the half-track laying out a new air-strip. Most of the men were out from the trucks a little ways and about 4 of us were watching the vehicles. A rear element of the Infantry was still there clearing out little pockets of men and they told us that we didn't have any business there, and sure enough we didn't, because a few minutes after they left we were all standing around talking when some snipers opened up on us. There happened to be a sunken hedgerow right there and we all made a dive for it and the Jerries continued to clip the limbs off over our heads. We couldn't see anything so we just laid there and in a minute everything was quiet, and the Infantry came over and told us that everything was O.K. They had found 3 or 4 snipers in a little barn about 100 yds. away. That was one of my close ones. At least I thought so.
In a few days the Americans (Patton's 3rd Army) made that breakthrough that didn't stop till they reached the German border. Maybe you remember the terrible bombing we gave them just before it started. Well I saw that from pretty close, and that was something else. That was really something. There must have been a couple thousand heavy bombers in it. They came over pretty low in no particular formation and just a little ways from us. You could see the German Ack Ack going up after them, and could see the bombs leaving the planes, then see the black smoke come up where the bombs hit. I saw several planes litterly explode in the air and come down in a hundred pieces. Others would just catch on fire and crash. Some made it back to American territory and crash landed. Some of them the men would bail out and others no one would leave the plane. At the same time our fighter escort P-47s and P-51s were dogfighting with the German fighers and there was some of both that went down.
Well after the drive started we packed up and started following it and didn't stop till we reached LaMans, France. We got there just a very few hrs. after they were liberated, and that was the first really happy Frenchmen we had seen. The people of Normandy didn't seem to be too happy about us being there. But the people of Laval and LaMans were almost as happy as the people of Paris. In one of those towns that day if you stopped your truck you could just figure on getting kissed by everything from little babies to old women with the beautiful young girls included. People stood along the streets with a bottle of wine in one hand and a glass in the other and when you stopped there was a glass of wine for you. It looked like they had saved their very best clothes for that occasion because everyone was dressed fit to kill.
Another thing I saw there was the punishing of the Collaborators or Quislings. They were the people, mostly girls, that seemed to like the Germans when they were there. Especially girls that would go with German Soldiers. The way they punished the girls was to go to her house and drag her to the center of town where there was a big crowd, and just turn the people loose on her, and they proceeded to tear her clothes off, and at the same time they took clippers and clipped their hair off just as close as they could get it. Usually they left at least a pair of pants or a skirt on them, but once in a while all they had left was their shoes. After that if you saw a girl wearing a bandana handkerchief around her head you could just figure she was trying to grow back her hair.
Roger Rush and Bob Maledy, July 4, 1945, south of Frankfurt
We didn't stay in LaMans very long, because at that time the front was moving pretty fast. So we moved to Chartres just a few days after it was liberated, and we were there such a short time that the whole co. never did get there. I was in the advanced party and was there 5 or 6 days, and we then move on to Etamps which is about 45 miles from Paris. And moved into pup tents once more, and it was then that I was put on the move. They gave me Roger Rush for my assistant driver and we started hauling gas from the beach. It was about 280 miles one way from there. I think we hauled two loads and stopped long enough to help move the Co. to Paris. and then we continued just the same. From Paris it was a little over 300 miles each way. Also at that time they lifted the blackout back toward the beach, so we could drive all night then. And at that time gas had No. 1 priority over everything. In fact they were flying it to Paris direct from England, so we really had to keep moving to keep enough gas for the company. Practically all gasoline is moved in 5 gal. cans over here. We loaded up with empty cans at Paris, and went directly to Omaha Beach and picked up full cans. By loading them right, I could get 300 cans on my truck, and that is exactly 6 ton, and take it from me that is a pretty fair load for a 2 ½ ton truck. But we made it O.K. At that time it was pretty warm, so Roger and I carried our bed rolls with us, and when we drove until we couldn't stay awake any longer we would pull off the road and sleep right there. We carried rations with us and we would even stop and cook them sometimes. Now if you remember about that time no one got any mail from me. Well I wasn't fooling any one - I was really too busy to write.
Now to jump back to the day that I made my first trip to Paris. I really can't remember just what day it was, but it was either 2 or 3 days after it had been liberated, but the celebration was still going full force. And I will never be able to explain the feeling it gave you to see so Many people so terribly happy. They were so grateful that they would do anything in the world for you. I had a bunch of men on the back of my truck and they were throwing out cigaretts by the handful. At that time a cigarett was worth more than all the money in the world. We went clear through Paris to Le Bourget and I unloaded my truck, and was supposed to go straight back to Etamps and get another load of stuff. Roger, two other guys and Myself started about 4 O'Clock but when we got down toward the center of Paris, we decided to see a little of the town so we turned off on a side street, and started going, I don't know where. Soon we got out of the district where there was any G.I. of any kind and people started crowding us. So we decided if they liked us that much we would stop and have a good time. So I pulled up in front of one of those sidewalk cafe's and we got us a table out on the street where we could watch the truck. Just as soon as we sat down some one set beer in front of us. So we started drinking it. It was about like water but we drank it anyhow. That was when I made a big mistake; I pulled out a pack of cigaretts to take one and some one ask for one so I didn't want to turn them down, and that started it. Everyone saw me and wanted one. So as soon as the Pk. gave out the people started a small riot, and a couple Paris Policemen had to break it up.
Right after that a lady came up and ask us to go to her home and have Champaign, so who were we to refuse. We took the truck to her house and went in and had the last bottle of Champaign they had. And it was the best I have ever tasted. One of the men at the house could speak English and one of the men with us could speak French so we made out fine. That was the lady that invited us for dinner the next day, so we got our heads together and fixed it so we would be back in Paris in time for the feast. It was almost dark when we finally left the house. about 11:30 and naturally we got lost, so we ask a fellow on a bycicle for directions, and he said he wasn't busy, so he loaded his bycicle in the truck and he took us clear through Paris and out on the right road, and when we got there we found out he had to ride all the way back on his bike. That's an example of the things they would do for you. We had to drive blackout clear to Etamps, that night, because they would be looking for us if we weren't there by morning when everyone got up. We finally got there 3 in the morning, sleep a little, loaded on a part of a load, and went on down to Chartres, to a depot to pick up some supplies. You see we planned everything on being back in Paris by 6 that night and naturally we made it. Found a civilian garage to store the truck in and then was when we had the feast I told you about before. We left their house about midnight and just had to go to the outskirts of Paris. Got there a little after one, after driving all over Paris trying to find the place. Then early the next morning Roger and I started back to the Beach. For the first few days after Paris was liberated it was wide open. What I mean the M.P.s didn't bother you. I remember one night walking right in the heart of Paris in fatigues without a hat of any kind. You could haul civilians and no one said a thing. And at that time the roads were lined with people that had evacuated from Paris and were on their way back. In fact for a while they (MP) made you haul them if you had any room at all.
Pat and Bob Maledy at the 1997 Reunion of the 922nd EAR
Then one day we pulled into Paris with a load of gas and they told us that we were moving and for us to take our load right on to Belgium. So off we started about noon. About 5 it started raining, and didn't let up. We could use lights tho so it wasn't too bad. We finally got where we were supposed to go about 3 in the morning. We slept in the cab that night, unloaded early the next morning and started right back to Paris. I hauled up another load of our junk and made one more trip back to the beach after gas. And that was a little over a 1000 mile trip (both ways). Then they got the railroad lines fixed and we quit hauling gas. That is for a long haul. Then I started hauling the mail and was soon sent on DS. That was when I really took a rest. They sent Roger and I together, and as no one cares what you do except get your work done. We worked one day then had the next day off. All we did was haul gravel or rock to fill in bomb craters on a concrete runway (that was the one Merle Mason was flying from). Then we went to Luxemburg and worked on another strip hauling rock and cinders. After that job was done, we went back to camp, and started hauling the mail again. We were getting it in Luxembourg and it was exactly 100 miles from camp and we made the round trip in one day, and that got tiresome.
Then came the Bulge and then was when things got hot for me because I always tried to go the shortest way possible, and I was coming a little too close for comfort. Then we had to go one day and come back the next. Then the roads all froze and it was a solid sheet of ice and we still had the same trip to make at it was getting longer every day. Finally when the Germans got about 10 miles from camp, we moved to St. Trond and that really made a long haul for mail, over 200 miles each way. Finally the law of averages or something caught up with me and I wrapped my truck around a tree. And then I got a little rest, because I didn't have a truck. Made one trip to Paris as another fellows assistant driver and shortly after that, I got another fellows truck that went to the Infantry.