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Malloy epitomizes America's 'greatest generation'

The Oskaloosa Independent of Oskaloosa, Kansas

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Veterans Day is Nov. 11

When he was drafted into the U.S. Army in July of 1941 at the age of 23, Jim Malloy thought at the time that he would be out of the service just a year later, free to return to the predictable blue-collar life he knew growing up in Kansas City... free to resume the pursuit of what few dreams he had in those days... free to openly speak his mind pretty much whenever and wherever he wanted to just like any other civilian in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

But that was before Japan's daring attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, which immediately drew the country into World War II and effectively forced millions of Americans, Malloy among them, to put their plans on hold for a while. As things turned out, it'd be another four years before he was in any real position to move on with his life, and by then he'd already spent about two and half of those years, time lost forever, as a prisoner of war.

"I never did get out," Malloy told me Friday morning during an interview at his home in Lakewood Hills, recalling the experience of seeing what was supposed to be a one-year stint in the service drag on into a second year and a life-changing year at that... then a third year... then a fourth year... and with no apparent end in sight.

After you're done blaming the Japanese for what ultimately happened to Malloy, whose teenage years coincided with the heart of the Great Depression, you might as well blame "the Desert Fox." After all, it was the well-trained men who fought under the command of German field marshal Gen. Erwin Rommel, nicknamed "the Desert Fox," who captured Malloy and many of his comrades in arms during the famed Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa.

Malloy said he and the other four men who occupied the Sherman tank they were assigned to all ended up in the hands of the Germans. The soldiers were with the 1st Armored Division (dubbed "Old Ironsides"), 69th Armored Regiment.

Malloy remembers latching on to three cartons of cigarettes before he crawled out of the tank to face his captors. He did so knowing full well just how highly treasured cigarettes were by fighting men on either side of the war. Because while the typical soldier always looked forward to a good smoke to help calm his jittery nerves and clear his mind, he also knew that if he had a pack of cigarettes he was willing to part with, he could easily trade it for food or something else he really needed.

Following their capture, Malloy and other Allied troops were briefly imprisoned in Italy, which was aligned with Germany during the war, then moved to "the Fatherland." And there they would remain, hungry if nothing else, until that unforgettable day when they were liberated by the Russians. Malloy described the Russians who arrived at the prison camp where he was confined as "infantry girls," young women who were no more than 19 or 20 years old at the time.

All in all, Malloy spent 29 months in captivity. He told me that that particular period in his life "seemed like a long time at that time" and that the one person who was perhaps most affected by the experience, aside from himself, was his father. "He took it real hard," he related.

The son of a police captain who was in charge of the detectives there in Kansas City, Malloy was Pat Mal-loy's only boy out of the four children who completed the Malloy family. Malloy said he lost his mother when he was only seven, but he had nothing but praise for the woman his father married afterward, the woman who essentially raised him.

Asked how he somehow survived those dark, depressing days as a prisoner of war, Malloy was quick to reply, "Damned if I know." But he went on to add that he just kept "plugging along," he just kept "going," doing the best he could to take each new day and the challenges it would bring in stride.

Now 97, Malloy doesn't consider himself to be some sort of super-hero. "I done like everyone else," he told me matter-of-factly. "I did my duty, that's all."

(Editor's note: More about Jim Malloy will appear in a story to be published in next week's issue of the paper.)



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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015



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