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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - Reliving the invasion of Peleliu

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 11:57 AM

At Norwalk's Memorial Day ceremonies this year a veteran of the World War II battle of Peleliu was honored. Someone else there asked me what the story of Peleliu was, and the only answer I could give was that it was hard-won invasion for the American Marines invading the Japanese-held island.

The battle for Peleliu started on Sept. 15, 1944. This island was held by Japan. It was strategically important for the Americans to hold it on their way to possibly invading Japan itself. This never came to be, although it was being considered as a way to end the war. When all was said and done, Peleliu was one of the four bloodiest battles ever for the U.S. Marines the other three being Tarawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima. These were all World War II encounters.

The U.S. Navy had already shelled the island and demolished the barracks, hangars, radio stations and any other standing structure. The Japanese then moved to underground caves and bunkers they had built, and waited for the invasion. As the Marines approached the beach the enemy was silent, and began firing when the landing was accomplished. Heavier American fire power eventually arrived to support the infantry, but the following day and night were especially confusing to all concerned.

It took seven terrible days to overcome the Japanese and secure the island. When the counting was done it was found that 6,526 Americans were casualties, with 1,252 of them killed in action. More than 10,000 Japanese had died. There was more than one enemy, as Peleliu was just seven degrees from the Equator and the sun took a big toll, too. The coral on the island heated up quickly and the lack of any surviving trees made heat exhaustion a great risk. The men who were evacuated because of heat were not counted in the figures given above.

One of the Navy Chaplains on Peleliu was Rev. John Malone of Norwalk, a Catholic priest assigned to the 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. He'd never seen battle before, and was deeply affected by the scenes around him.

As soon as he could he set up a small altar among the shattered trees in the hot sun, to say Mass for the casualties. He was one of just two chaplains on the island. Life Magazine ran an article and a series of vivid paintings of the battle in June of 1945. My paternal grandmother was a neighbor to Malone's parents and preserved a copy of the magazine article, which now rests in my archives.

John Malone was born in Norwalk in 1908 in the family home at 80 Newton St. and received his early training in nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church. He served just over two years as a chaplain before returning to the Toledo Diocese in 1946.

He died in Toledo in 1990. While en route to his assignment in the Pacific in May of 1944 he was able to meet with his sister, Lt. Louise Malone, an army nurse.

She, too, was stationed in the Pacific and had not seen any member of her family since being home on leave in November of 1941.

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