Remarkable stories of war told by those who fought for a proud nation. Their words. Their voices. Our first episodes tell riveting stories from World War II, then we move on to the Vietnam War and other dramatic conflicts.
If you like listening to Warriors In Their Own Words, check out our other show, the Medal of Honor Podcast. The link is in the show description.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
Warriors in Their Own Words is our attempt to present an unvarnished, unsanitized truth of what we have asked of those who defend this nation. Thank you for listening, and by doing so, honoring those who have served.
Today, we’ll hear from Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey. Malarkey served as a Paratrooper in WWII, and fought in the Invasion of Normandy. The HBO show Band of Brothers tells the story of Malarkey and his Company.
T/Sgt T/Sgt Donald Malarkey:
I went in the Airborne Troops in September of 1942. I was 21.
Well, my hometown really had been Astoria, but I was working in Portland in the summer of 1942, and I was originally drafted in the Army and I volunteered for the Parachute Troops when I reported to Fort Louis, Washington.
I didn't care to be in the infantry, frankly. I'd been turned down by the Marine Corps seven days after Pearl Harbor, and I couldn't pass the exam for the Air Force in the spring of 1942 at the University of Oregon. So I was drafted by accident, I guess, and volunteered into the parachute troops at Fort Louis, Washington.
We'd been aggressively trained at Tacoma, Georgia, probably the most strenuously trained regiment in the parachute troops at any time. We were trained for four months up in the Chattahoochee National Forest. And we weren't supermen, but we were in super physical condition and we were trained to run at something, which we did. And if that makes a superman, why somebody can say, "Well, that was a super thing you did some way." But there's nobody that would categorically say, "Yeah, I was a Superman." I mean, that takes a lot of ego to describe yourself that way although Ambrose may have had that opinion.
He had great admiration for Dick Winters because of the research he did involving him and all his records and whatnot. And so, I don't know. We were far from being supermen. If there's anything super about E Company and about the 506 and about the 101st Airborne Division, it occurred at Bastogne, Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge.
We were located at a place called Auburn, England, and the first and second battalion of the 506 Parachute Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division had been moved down to southwest England at an air base called Upottery. It was seven or eight days before the 5th of June, and during the time that we were there, we would be taken up into hangers at the air base where they had sand tables that depicted all of the topography of Normandy, roads and structures, and one thing and another. And we were taken to the hangers to describe what our mission was on D-Day. We were to capture causeways one and two coming in off of Utah Beach. A causeway comes across the Tideland area, maybe a mile and a half from the beach. And where it gets up onto hard surface ground, it formed a road that ran parallel the coast and they called that a causeway. We were to capture those two causeways.
The night of the drop that we made on the 5th of June, we took off from England about 10 o'clock at night in an armada of C47s of 81 airplanes. We flew out of England to the west, looped around to the south, came in on the west coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula. The first indication of enemy fire at all occurred as we were passing south of the Guernsey and Jersey Islands off of Cherbourg. We flew straight across to the vicinity of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and as we neared Sainte-Mere-Eglise, we were under heavy fire, German fire. Anti-aircraft fire, machine gunfire, whatnot.
The Pathfinder plane that was supposed to identify the field that we were to land in in Normandy had gone down in the channel. And so we had no Pathfinder group that preceded us. So the jump was automatically scattered. As we crossed Sainte-Mere-Eglise under the heavy fire, why the planes automatically took evasive action. They dropped down to a lower altitude, maintained their speed.
We went out of the plane, they claim about 200 feet in elevation rather than at a lower speed and a higher altitude than we were supposed to go at. The men in my plane, Lieutenant Compton was the jump master. I was jumping the heaviest load in the plane. I jumped a 60 millimeter motor complete, plus all the other stuff they hang on you. And there's always been a discussion about who followed Compton out of the plane first, whether it was myself or Joe Toye or whatever. Buck Compton had a British leg bag that you put all of your equipment in, and as you neared the ground when the opening side of the plane whatnot, the rope that held your British leg bag, which we were unfamiliar with, dropped down below you and it hit the ground before you did with all the weight. It's supposed to lessen the shock of the fall. His leg bag flew right off him and he ended up on the ground with nothing.
Joe Toye had a leg bag, and the leg bag that he had he wrapped the rope around his arm. And he thought he could hold it that way without any problem. But the opening shock of the parachute ripped the rope down his arm, injured his arm severely at the wrist. But anyway, I landed and my canopy of the parachute went over a tree and actually I had an easy landing. My feet were touching the ground. My back had hit the vegetation along the hedgerow. And then I ran out. I got out of the chute, and I ran out in the field where Sergeant Bill Guarnere was. He was my squad leader. He was about 15 yards from me and across on the other side of the field with Joe Toye. We were the first three people out of the plane after Lieutenant Compton, but the three of us were the only ones that were together out of that plane.
As I exited the plane, I saw a triangular piece of property to the west of me with two roads that formed a triangle. And when we got on the ground together, we went out to the first road, jumped over it, walked across the road to where the triangular piece of property was. And it was an orchard with probably 20 or 25 people standing in it. We couldn't tell who they were. The cricket that I had for identification was smashed on my parachute and wouldn't work. But Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere tried their crickets. The men in the orchard paid no attention to it, so they eventually yelled at them and they identified themselves as paratroopers. None of them were from our plane or from A company. A number of them came out onto the road where we were and we joined them and started toward the beach.
We hadn't gone very far when we heard horses and carts coming down behind us. And when we heard the carts, we jumped up in the hedgerow. And when they got alongside us, we jumped out and we captured seven or eight Germans that were a supply detail, taking things down to the beach. One of the people that was in the group ahead of us could speak German pretty well, and he told the prisoners that we had, there were seven or eight of them, that if we came under any kind of fire that they stayed in the road. And right off the bat, as we moved a little bit, we were really going north towards the coast and a machine gun fired off in the distance somewhere. And one of these guys went diving into a ditch and Guarnere shot him in the back. And from then on, we didn't have any trouble with them. The fellow that was shot, we threw him in one of the carts and he died on his way down to the coast.
We got down to the coast road that ran parallel to Utah Beach. I started, along with Joe and I, we were the only people from E company that were together, or from our plane that were together. And we started going east along the coast road. And we hadn't gone very far when we walked by seven or eight German prisoners that they had lined up along the road. After I passed them, there was somebody from behind that yelled at these prisoners and said, "Where youse guys from?", a fella from Brooklyn or somewhere. And so anyway, a guy said, "Portland, Oregon." And I turned around and I walked back and I said, "Who said that?" And there was a German sergeant there that had said that. He said, "I did." And I said, "What do you mean you're from Portland, Oregon?" "Well," he said, "I am." And I said, "Well, what are you doing here?" And he said, "I returned to Germany. And when Hitler called for the return of all true Aryans in 1938." I don't know if he returned with his family or just himself or what. And I didn't get into it that much with him. So I asked him what he did in Portland. He said, "I worked for Schmidt Steel Company in Northwest Portland in a machine shop that was making things for shipbuilding industry in Portland." And I laughed at him and I said, "I worked right across the street at Monarch Forge and Machine Works the summer of 1942." Both companies did the same thing. The Schmidt Steelworks was owned by a fellow named Bill Schmidt, who was a good friend of my family who was a former All-American fullback at Notre Dame. The person that owned Monarch Forge and Machine Works was a man named Charlie Hirshfield. He was not an athlete at Notre Dame, but he was a student at Notre Dame at the same time that Bill Schmidt went to school at Notre Dame.
Anyway, I told him I worked right across the street from him, from where he worked. And I said, "What do you think of yourself now?" And he said, "Well, I think I made a mistake." And what happened after that, I don't know. But we started up, continued on going east. There was an incident in Band of Brothers that would give you the idea that an officer gave these guys a cigarette and then shot them down. I don't know if that happened. It did happen later in an attack in Carentan, and I think HBO was fitting it into that part of the program for effect or whatever.
The second battalion of the 506 was to capture causeways two and three. And where the second battalion was when we reached them was at causeways two and three. They were under control of us. And that was our original mission, we didn't know anything about the guns, what they call the guns of Brecourt. They'd been secreted into the area that they were located out on the Brecourt farm about 60 days before the invasion were kept camouflaged quite well that the American intelligence didn't pick it up.
But anyway, when Dick Winters went up and reported to Strayer, I don't know what Strayer told him, but he told them that we were to go down, to take whatever man he had and go down and attack this position. E Company was the assault company of the battalion. And we'd been trained that whenever there was a special target that was encountered, whether it was a pillbox or machine gun nest or whatever, that the first unit to make the attack would be E Company.
So Strayer was going by the boards, and in having E Company come up and go down there and do it. When Winters came back, he gathered the men from E Company that were together. There were 12 of us all together. We walked into an area called Le Grand Chemin there was right at the causeways. There was a cluster of four or five small buildings there, houses and little garages and whatnot. We walked in about 25 feet, dropped all our gear and took nothing but our ammunition, hand grenades and whatnot. We went down with Winters through an orchard. There was a hedgerow along the east side of the orchard, and he lined us all up there and had us fire, withering fire, firing full clips of ammunition in at the general position we were going to attack. We couldn't see what we were firing at. We just fired at the general area and we all lined up and did that.
When we got through with the firing, why he sent Carwood Lipton off to the right down at the end of a pasture that the first artillery piece would be firing down. And he then ordered me to go across an area of about 35 yards towards the hedgerow area where these guns were located. And I started crawling across the ground. And I think that Buck Compton, my platoon leader, he didn't like what I was doing. So he called me back and he said, "Come on back here." And I went back and he said, "I'll go." And then he ran across like he was a football guard at UCLA, which he was during this college time. And he dropped right in a trench without knowing it was there. He'd lost all his gear on the drop. The leg bag that he carried disappeared. He pulled a Tommy gun off an injured soldier on the way to where we were, causeways two and three. So he had a Tommy gun. He drops in the trench, he pulls a Tommy gun up and there's a German standing about 10 feet away from him. He fires a gun. It doesn't fire, it misfires. The German runs down the trench towards where the first artillery piece was. He then he then motioned us over.
So everybody ran over and most of them dropped in the trench. I went out into the field where the first artillery piece fired down and I started running up the field. Guys that were running up the trench, and that's parallel to me. About halfway up to where that first artillery piece was, why Popeye Wynn got hit. And he started apologizing to Lieutenant Winters and said, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant Winters. I'm sorry I goofed up." He used more expressive language than that, but anyway that's about what he had to say. And he wasn't crying for pain or anything. He was crying because he thought he'd let Lieutenant Winters down.
But anyway, I continued on up. But as I got near the gun, that first artillery piece, I pulled out a hand grenade and I threw it. My hand grenade probably never got there before a burst of Tommy gun ammunition came from out of the trench, probably fired by Dick Winters, Bill Guarnere, Buck Compton, and who knows what. But the gunner was knocked down and killed, dropped below the artillery piece.
As I got up to where the cut was through the hedgerow. I looked out in the field and the assistant gunner had run out in the field, wounded about 30 yards and went down. He had a packing on his side and I thought it was some kind of a German pistol, preferably Luger. So without thinking, I went running out in that field and going to get myself a souvenir. So right off the bat, I went brain-dead. And when I knelt down beside him, why the canvas container he had in his side was a container for a site mechanism off the artillery piece. It wasn't a pistol there. And as I knelt down, why Dick Winters called at me, yelled at me, he was going up near the second artillery piece. He call me an idiot and, "Get out of there. They’re Germans all over the place." But they didn't fire me when I went out there thinking I was a medic or something. So when I raised up and he had yelled at me, why then they opened up me with a variety of guns, had to be the dumbest shots that ever lived and they didn't hit me. But I went running back and I dove under that gun. I laid beside the dead German there and Bill Guarnere, and my squad leader could get within about five or six feet of me and still be protected by the hedgerow because the gun was cut through a hedgerow.
And anyway, he said, "Take it easy, take it easy. I'll get you out of there." So after a while, why they'd fire a burst or something coming in and he timed it or something. And then he said, "The next time you hear a shot coming in, why jump up and run." I didn't have far to run, I just had to roll over to where he was. And I got out of there without being hit.
As I got in there, got to the trench system, Buck Compton was standing there and Joe Toye with him. They had a number of German prisoners that were standing there. And pretty soon a guy that wasn't in E company, he got in there with us, but he was from A company of the first battalion. He walks up to one of these German prisoners. He had a 1918 trench knife and it had a handle that was… Brass knuckles it had. But anyway, he hit this prisoner full blast on the side of the face. He had to bust his jaw a thousand places.
But anyway, Buck Compton yelled at the guy and said, "What do you mean doing that? That's a violation of Geneva Convention. We get out of here, I'm going to get you court martial." And I don't question that Buck Compton would've done that. But anyway, this guy headed towards the second gun and I followed him.
We had a machine gun position about halfway between the area that we were in and that second gun area. And all of a sudden a shot rang out and this guy goes down from A Company. I couldn't see where he was firing from. I tried to see where up in the air this guy was, and he gets on his hands with his fingers trying to creep along in that trench, and the guy hit him two or three times. I never could see where he was firing from. But Winters and Guarnere were up ahead, and I'm sure they spotted him because he was taken out in a hurry before he hit me. But anyway, this guy from A Company that had hit this prisoner while he was killed there.
At the same time, why Cleveland O. Petty was hit on the machine gun and went down. Winters knew he'd been hit, and he yelled at me and he said, "Malarkey, get on that machine gun with Liebgott." So I helped Joe Liebgott on the machine gun for some period of time firing at German positions across the pasture towards Brecourt. Winters then yelled at me and he said, "Run back across where the first gun was, cross the next hedgerow and be a lookout for someone coming in on our right flank," so we wouldn't get hit from behind.
So I went over there and I positioned myself in the hedgerow with a position where I could see far to the south of me. The only thing I saw there during the time I was there were two Germans that were going across the field, probably 250, 300 yards away. I fired at them with my carbine. They both went down. I doubt that neither one of them were hit, although I had fired expert with a carbine in training. But it was a long shot and I doubt that I hit them. But they went down in the grass and crawled away. Later on I thought I heard something across the hedgerow to my left, which was an extension of the hedgerow where that first gun was. And I threw a couple potato masher grenades that I had taken with me, German grenades across the hedgerow. I don't know if anything was over there or not, but if there was, why I quieted them down. I hadn't been there, I don't know, maybe 20, 25 minutes when Winters yelled at me and he said, ""Come back across by that first gun." And he said, "Put a grenade down the barrel of it." So I did. I ran across and I got to the first gun and I put a grenade down him. All the time I was over there, I could hear the firing going on at the second gun and the third gun. I could hear the grenades and I could hear the firing of guns, of Tommy guns and rifles. But I didn't know what really was going on to the extent that their attack had been. But the Winters had yelled to come back is that everybody was running out of ammunition. Period. That we had no way that anybody could get down to us. And so we were then pulled back up to Le Grand Chemin where we had dropped all our gear. And so I grabbed the mortar tube and I put it between my leg. Nobody told me to do it, I just did it. And I could see the top of Brecourt Manor. So I fired seven or eight rounds at the very top of Brecourt Manor. I couldn't see any of them hitting, which means that they went over the manor, which is what I wanted to do. I knew there were Germans going to be escaping out of that area. And anyway, after I fired the mortar, I went in a barn, Joe Toye and I. It was a small barn there where some of our equipment was put, and I laid down in the hay with Joe.
We weren't there very long. And I heard Winters calling Joe and I, and he had tanks that came in off the Utah Beach. And he said, "You go down there to the end of that first pasture with these tanks." I don't know whether there were three or five of them. So we went down to the end of the pasture facing up at that first artillery piece. And these tanks lifted their turrets and just positioned themselves and then opened fire. Joe was between two of the tanks and I was between two of them. And it was the first time either one of us ever heard a tank firing with all its guns. And it was unbelievable the firepower they had. And so they fired at everything like crazy from there. And then we started with them moving up the pasture towards the first gun.
When we got to that first gun, I reached down and grabbed my helmet that had fallen off my head when I dove under there. Joe and I then left them. The tanks veered off to the south side of Brecourt and continued on somewhere. I don't know where they went, but they shot up everything that they could see. And I don't know whether were there were any Germans left around there or not at the time. But anyway, they were on their way. We then went back to Le Grand Chemin there along the coast road. And from that part on the balance of the day of D-Day, there really wasn't anything of significance that I recall that we did.
We eventually, during the late afternoon or early evening, we moved towards either the village of Saint-Come-du-Mont or Sainte- Marie-de-Mont, I don't remember what. But as nightfall came, why our platoon sergeant Jimmy Dial, he and Buck Compton had us assemble a circular type of protection for the platoon, and we positioned ourself there at night. We didn't do anything there after that until the next day. So that really was the total experience that I had on the guns of Brecourt.
Now there was comment made that this trench system wasn't a trench system like World War I. Well, it was except when it got near the second gun where this man from A Company was killed, the trench was elevated up in the area, probably three or four feet. And I think for the next stretch probably the trench system probably was only two or three feet. But that was because they had the wheels of the artillery piece that would be positioned there. And then the trench went on from there after that towards the third gun. So anyway, it was a World War I type trench between the time that we hit it and where we went up to.
There was a fairly large assembly of people from the Second Battalion at causeways one and two. There was only a fractional part of E Company. There were 12 of us, but we were the assault company of the battalion. And Strayer automatically called E Company up front. It wasn't our company commander that was coming up there. It was Dick Winters. And so he told Dick Winters to take whatever men we had these guns. I don't know how much Colonel Strayer knew about the position of the guns down there, nor how much Lieutenant John Kelly knew about it. John Kelly was a boxer during civilian times, and he had the face to show it. I heard comment about him that people thought he might be punch drunk or something, I don't know anything about that.
But anyway, how much confidence that Strayer had in him, I don't know. But anyway, I don't know how much detail that Strayer knew about it to relate to Winters. The only thing that Winters told us is that when we were at Le Grand Chemin and dropped all our gear, is to take our gear, take all our ammunition, grenades and whatnot and follow him, and that we were going to make this attack into where the guns were. You couldn't see the guns, you couldn't see the trench. And when Buck Compton ran across this open area, he dropped in the trench without even knowing it was there. And it was when you got to the trench, then you went across the hedgerow and then you could see the first gun. But Winters and Guarnere and Compton and Joe Toye and whatnot, they ran up the trench towards the first gun. I ran out in the field. Why? I don't know. I just did. I ran up along the edge of the hedgerow and I was along the parallel with Popeye Wynn when he got hit.
But other than that, we were making the attack just by, I'm not going to say by luck. But Dick Winters laid it out to where he had one man to our west flank, Carwood Lipton to protect us from the rear. And eventually had me on our right flank to protect us from our right flank. He'd left a machine gun crew out on the field that we had crossed to protect any Germans from coming around from our left flank. And other than that, we were attacking the position as novices really. But there wasn't any planned attack in advance where we knew exactly what was there. It was just a continuation of a position that had one gun and then three others, and we had to go at it as best we could.
All the time that I had crossed the hedgerow to the south past that first gun to protect our flank there, our right flank, I could hear all the grenades and the machine gunfire and the rifle fire going on at the second and third guns, but I couldn't see anything. All I knew is that there was a firefight going on. And the result of it was that Winters and the people with him had knocked out the second and third guns. They had run out of ammunition to assault the fourth gun. Ronald Spears from D Company knocked that gun out in a short time later.
But anyway, at that point we pulled back, we didn't know anything about Brecourt. All we could do was see the Brecourt Manor off to the distance, not a far distance, probably a hundred yards away.
In 1984, my wife and I were going to England to meet a friend of ours that was in the company named Don Moon. We were going to spend three or four days with him. Then we were going to go to Holland and to Bastogne, Belgium to join people from the company that were on tour there. A couple weeks before we were to leave, why Dick Winters called me and he said, "Can you and Irene change your schedule to go to Normandy?" Said, "I've just been contacted by the family that owns the farm where we fought on D-Day and they want some one of us to come there to see them." That they wanted to talk about what we did on D-Day and what they knew about the thing. And so we agreed to do that.
The family had sent Dick Winters a set of maps, after-battle maps of the artillery position and whatnot that was on their farm. And so Irene and I arranged. We first flew to London and we spent three or four days with Don Moon. We then went to Normandy and we met Louis de Vallavieille, the younger brother of the two sons that operated the farm at Brecourt. He lived in a family complex in Paris of a seven unit structure. His mother was there with him. Mrs. de Vallavieille, the older brother, Michel, he ran the farm. And so we met Louie and at de Gaulle Airport. He knew where the car was that we were to leave there to go to Carentan. And so after we had coffee and stuff and visited, why he told us where our car was, and we went out to it, we made arrangements with the rental agency. And he said, "I'll be by here with my car in a few minutes and then you follow me." And he said, "I'm going to take you out to where the road out of Paris goes to Carentan, France," where we were going to stay. So we followed him going out Paris. And then he left us and said, "I'll be down at the hotel in the morning." And he was. So we go down to Carentan, stay in the hotel, and the next morning he's out there waiting for us and we followed him over to Brecourt. When we got to Brecourt, why we met the family that were there, sons and a daughter, and a boyfriend of one of the daughters. And Michel, the older brother, took us into his office and he said, "I have some things I want you to take home with you." And he gave me medallions, 40th anniversary medallions of the invasion of Normandy that we were to give to people that fought with us on D-Day, the ones that were still alive.
So we were sitting in his office and he pulls back a throw rug on the floor, and the floors were rock, old slab rock. And he said, "You see those two marks there on the floor?" And I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Those are two German officers that you killed." And they had them laying there in his office. They went over in the tack house. They kept the family locked up in the tack house. The only time they got out was when they were taking care of their dairy herd. Then they were let out there, took care of the dairy herd, and they were back in the tack house. The tack house had no windows. They never knew what was going on on D-Day. All they could hear is all the noise going on.
So anyway, they came and got him and he said they wanted to know if he could help these guys medically. And he said no, he couldn't. He didn't know anything medically to help them. So they laid there and died, and eventually during the day, why when the firing simmered down, why they got out of the tack house and most of the Germans had fled. Maybe all of them had fled. They walked out onto the roadway that passed the manor, Michel de Vallavieille and Charles de Vallavieille, Michel's wife. They were standing on the road and pretty soon some paratroopers came down the road and one of them started firing at Michel, shot him five times, thought he was a German I guess or something. And they screamed and yelled and hollered. And it so happened that near where they were troops of the 90th Infantry Division who had came in off of Utah Beach and there were medics with them. So they grabbed Michel and they took him down to Utah Beach. He'd been shot five times.
So anyway, they think they know who the man was that shot him. I don't know if it's true or not, but he was a famous officer from our company named Ronald Spears. And the family thinks that Ronald Spears shot their senior son, Michel. He was taken to England, hospitalized for six months, survived, and then came back to the farm.
After Irene and I had had a family lunch with the family, we walked out to the forecourt of the manor. I have a picture of it over there. We walked out to the forecourt of the manor and Michel out of the clear blue sky, he said, "Who fired the mortar down here on D-Day?" I said, "I did." He said, "You want to see what you did?" And I said, "Yeah." And so he showed me shrapnel marks on the rock wall of the manor, and he said, "Those marks up there are what you did." There are maps that they sent Winters showed dead men on the forecourt of the manor. Whether the motar killed him or not, I have no idea.
But anyway, the younger son, Louis, he said, "We want to see how you made the attack." So we went with him over to Le Grand Chemin. Irene and I went with him and we walked down to the orchard where we'd made the attack from, and we showed him how we did it, the first guns and whatnot, where that was. There were pictures taken later on in that area that we have. But anyway, he said, "Now we're going to find out where you landed." And I said, "Well, how you going to do that?" And he said, "Well, do you remember what you saw out of the plane when you went out?" And I said, "Yeah, I saw this triangular piece of property."
So we get in his car and we start driving from the coast road up to Sainte-Mere-Eglise. We made three or four trips, and finally we came towards Sainte-Mere-Eglise and we see a triangular piece of property that was formed by the convergence of two roads. And I said, "Take that road to the left and go up about 50 feet or so and stop, and I'll see where we were." So I jumped out of the car, looked over the hedgerow towards where this orchard was that I had seen on D-Day. There's no orchard there. So I turned around and I told Louis, I said, "Louis, there's no orchard here." He said, "Well, there was an orchard there." He said the American army had an ammunition dump located in there, and at some time during Normandy, it blew up. It took the whole orchard out with it. So he said, "You've got the right place. There's no doubt about that."
So then we went across the road to the next pasture, walked back about 50 yards, and I stood in front of a tree there and I said, "The canopy of my chute dropped over this tree there, or the one on either side of it." And of course it wasn't the same tree then. It was a different tree, but it was an elm tree, Dutch elm tree. But I said, "This is where I landed." I said, "I went out in the field about 15 yards, and that's where Bill Guarnere was, and across the field where Joe Toye was. We were the only three people out of that plane that were together."
So anyway, I had actually found the tree I landed in, the area that I'd landed in. And then from there on why we went back to the farm. And Michel and Louis and I and Irene walked out onto the field where the first cut was through the hedgerow. There's a picture of myself and Michel and Louis that Irene had taken as we stood where this first gun was. There was a variety of pictures taken in front of the manor, in front of Brecourt Manor of the family, of Michel and his wife and Louis. So we were the only ones who've ever been back to Brecourt and gone through it the way we did. Now, you can't do that. You can't get in at Le Grand Chemin anymore. It's been all fenced off. The owners of the property have been bothered so much that they built a fence across there and they won't let anybody in. People that people go to Brecourt and have gone to Couture, and this includes Lieutenant Compton, Lieutenant Winters, Carwood Lipton, everybody. They walk out onto that field that I'd run out in and they stand there and you can see where the first gun was. You can see where the other three guns were, the hedgerow along there. And you can identify where you were.
It's not the way the attack was made. The attack was made from the west. But the only way that people today can visualize that is having it described. But Irene and I and Louis had gone through it from the way we made the attack at La Grand Chemin. In fact, when we walked in there, Louis said, "I fired the mortar just by the tube without the baseplate." And he said, 'You remember what happened when you were trying to get the tube out of the ground?" because every time you fire, it goes down farther. I said, "Yeah, I couldn't get it out." And he said, "You remember a little Frenchman coming out with a shovel and helping you?" And I said, "Yeah." He said, "See that little building there?" This looked like a little garage. And he said he was looking at you through that little window trying to get your mortar tube out of there. And so he came out with a shovel and helped you dig it out. And I said, "I remember that." And I didn't know who he was, but he was the he was only Frenchman that I ever saw that day or at any other time in Normandy that I remember. I never saw any civilians. They were all pretty well hidden. And I never talked to the guy. He just came out with a shovel and helped me dig it out.
But the attack that Dick Winters orchestrated was, I told him down at Lake Tahoe at the 40th anniversary of the invasion. We were down there at a reunion on the 40th anniversary, 1984, on D-Day before Irene and I went to England. We were standing out on the rail of this boat going around Lake Tahoe at a dinner we had there. And so I mentioned to him, I said, "Dick, we were just awful lucky on D-Day that we hit that position the only way that they never really had it properly defended." And he got mad, irritated. He said, "What do you mean mean lucky?" He said, "I developed the way that the attack should be made." And I said, "Yeah, well, I'm sorry." I said, "I must have misstated that properly." But nevertheless, I can't help but think that the only reason, the weak point that they had at Brecourt was coming in from the west because you were coming in in an extension of what that trench system was. And so really there wasn't any frontal type of thing that you were going into.
So we really initially were, in my opinion, were lucky. But there was an interesting letter that was captured by the American intelligence from Normandy of a soldier writing back to Germany. And it's hard to tell what incident he was describing. But anyway, he said in his letter, he said, "American paratroopers are crazy." He said, "They run right at you.' And basically that's what the attack on Brecourt was, is that American paratroopers were running at the Germans firing as they went. And it basically put the defenders of Brecourt in shock or something because there were seven or eight of them that surrendered quickly in that trench system that they could have shot three or four guys down very easily. But anyway, they never did it. And so the first gun position was taken really pretty easily as far as that went. From the second and third gun, I don't think it was quite that way. I was on my way to the second gun when this guy from A Company was hit right in front of me, killed in front of me. And my machine gunner, Cleveland O. Petty was knocked off the machine gun with Joe Liebgott and Winters yelled at me to get on the machine gun with Liebgott. And so whoever was moving toward the second gun besides me, I don't know. I know Guarnere was. I know that, with Winters. And so there was a person with us named Lorraine that came in the trench somehow with us. He was some kind of driver for Maxwell Taylor or something. And he was at that second gun. And I'm not sure if Buck and Joe Toye were there or not. I frankly don't know. But I was on the machine gun with Liebgott, while these guys were attacking the second gun. And then Winters took me off that machine gun, sent me off to our right flank to protect our right flank.
From then on, I couldn't see anything. I was screened off by hedgerows. All I could do was hear the firing going on at the second and third gun. And there was a lot of that going on and a lot of grenades going off, either by the Germans or by the Americans. But Guarnere, Lorraine and Winters, and I don't know if Joe Toye and Compton joined them at the same time or not. I have no knowledge of that frankly. We didn't have a lot of people starting out with. The one machine gun team was left out in the pasture that we'd come across to protect our left flank. Carwood Lipton had been sent down to the end of the first pasture to climb a tree. He couldn't find a tree to climb. And he eventually got up to us about the time that I was throwing a grenade in that first artillery piece on the way up to where we were while he ran across a warrant officer. His name was either Hill or Hall, I don't know what his name was. But he'd been killed. He'd been trying to get in there where we were and they'd shot him, killed him. How the thing was done, frankly, I have no idea. Because other than the first gun, that's the only real thing that I saw that I could visually see. I couldn't see what went on with the second gun because I was in the trench, and then I was sent on the machine gun, and then I was sent across past the first gun across the Hedgerow, and I was screened off completely.
All I could hear was the firing that was going on, of grenades and Tommy guns and rifles and whatnot. And I only have to picture in my mind what was going on. There's no doubt that there were plenty of Germans being shot down. There were a number of Germans that had surrendered initially. And some, I think probably surrendered as they got near that second gun.,I just have to guess at what it was.
Well, the number of Germans that were firing and the number of Germans that had surrendered, and those that may have been killed or injured. Winters talked to, I think a colonel who knew something about the unit that was there later. And he said it was about 50 men. But the map that Louis and Michel de Vallavieille created showed German bodies laying around on the forecourt of Brecourt. And I don't really know the number, so 50 may have been accurate. But the fourth gun was not taken by Winters. They were taken by Ronald Spears and almost simultaneously.
Yeah, there were 12 guys from E Company. Three of the nine guys from E Company didn't go in with us. But two guys did join us that weren't in E company. We were just shooting blind. Well, the idea that they got of how many Germans were there was when I went out in that field and Winters yelled at me. Then when I stood up, the Germans thought I was a medic. They didn't fire on me going out there. And when I stood up, why then all those guns opened up. At that point Winters knew that there was a lot of Germans over there along the road that were a defensive force for the artillery pieces. How they never hit me, I don't know, but they didn't. So there really were a total of nine guys that made the attack. Seven guys from E Company, two guys that had been added in, and Popeye was hit. Cleveland O. Petty was hit. That knocked two of them out. So there really were a handful of guys. And I was effectively out of it after I got moving toward the second gun and I got put on the machine gun with Liebgott.
The trouble is that Winters and Guarnere and those guys, they were running out of ammunition. We had a deposit of German grenades that were in the trench system that had been left in an alcove area they had there. And that's where we were getting grenades that we used, that I packed with me across from that first gun when I went out on the right flank area to protect us from the right flank.
Winters did the smart stuff. He had it protected from the rear with Carwood Lipton, and had me protecting on the right flank eventually. And the machine gun crew on the left flank that would protect us there. He did the right thing, no doubt about that. Winters orchestrated the attack, but with just a fragmented knowledge of what was involved there.
He gets mad at me when I say we were lucky. But luck and being smart might be the same thing in a sense. But that's what Winters was, really. He was lucky and smart at the same time, because we had picked the only possible way to go against that artillery position that didn't have a valid defensive unit that faced us. We were coming in at them from their side, and it was that thing that probably in some sense put them in shock.
Their whole scenario was to be facing the Utah Beach area, and that's where their defensive unit was, plus along the farm road that passed Brecourt farm. The funny part about it is when it all ended and the family got out of the tack house that they were kept in. The German troops occupied the manor, and they didn't know what was going on and had no knowledge of what was going on. They walked out onto the road, and went through the archway that you had to pass through and stood out on the road. And then the paratroopers came along and shot Michel.
There's pictures that I brought here that Irene and I had taken 40 years ago that show Louis de Vallavieille standing on the road and explaining what happened to the family when they came out there where Michel was shot.
All right, I'm not going to go there. One last question. Had you experienced combat before this?
T/Sgt Donald Malarkey:
So this was your first?
T/Sgt Donald Malarkey:
It was our baptism of fire.
How did it change you?
T/Sgt Donald Malarkey:
It changed you to the extent that you very quickly knew that if you're going to keep sticking your neck out right along that you're going to get taken out in a hurry. And so it taught you that you had to be smart. You had to use cover and concealment to the best of your advantage in any position that you could be in. It didn't mean that you weren't going to stick your neck out from time to time because that you had to do, but in the process of doing it, you had to be smart at the same time. Because if you're just going to stick your neck out all the time, why they're going to take you out. There's no doubt about that. It's bound to happen.
And one of our sergeants, he wasn't with us at that event, named Leo Boyle, later on in Normandy why he stood up right on the hedgerow looking at what he thought were American tanks. He said, "American tanks out there milling around." They were German tanks in a counterattack coming in to retake Carentan. Bang. They take him out. He did the same thing in Holland. He stood right in the top of a dyke in Holland in the midst of an attack, and bang he goes down again.
But all you have to do is to meet civilians in France today, or that correspond with you and relate to you what an achievement that we'd made and how appreciative they are of it. And I don't say that all of France feels the same way. But in the Normandy area, they certainly do, in the pastoral area in Normandy. They were under heavy German domination. There's always been a question how much people in Paris appreciated what was done. They say that Paris was a playground of German officers and that the people of Paris were... It's hard to say what went on there. But in Normandy and in other parts of France, why people were genuinely appreciative of what we did.
That was Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey. To learn more about Malarkey and his company, check out the HBO show Band of Brothers.
If you missed it, make sure to check out the first part of his interview, where he talks about serving on the USS Tennessee during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Tarawa.
Thanks for listening to Warriors In Their Own Words. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.
And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.
Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.
Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.