Share this article

print logo

WWII veteran from Eden recalls holding it together in shoot-down, capture after D-Day

Jerome F. Malvin, 95

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Eden

Branch: Army Air Forces

Rank: Technical sergeant

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1942-45

Most prominent honors: Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Aviation Gunner Badge

Specialty: Radio operator and gunner on B-24 Liberator bomber

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

Jerome F. Malvin never loses his sense of humor when anyone asks if he fought in World War II.

“I’d tell them, ‘I fought and I fought and I fought real hard, and they took me, anyway,” he says with a chuckle about being drafted.

The 95-year-old’s sense of humor is even more remarkable when you consider that Malvin experienced some of the worst that World War II offered.

He was a radio operator and gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator bomber, which the crew nicknamed Channel Hopper. Malvin flew 24 missions before being shot down in the weeks following the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It happened while the 10-member crew was flying a mission from Shipdham, England, to Bernburg, Germany.

“We were attacked by the German Messerschmitt fighter planes. They were armed to the teeth. They had rockets and shot at the group of American B-24 bombers coming at them,” Malvin recalls. “Our twin .50-caliber guns could not reach them. They could attack us with the rockets, and we couldn’t respond because of the distance.”

On this fateful 25th mission, July 7, 1944, Malvin was assigned to the plane’s bomb bay doors to make sure they shut after the plane dropped its bombs. He recalled that soon after the bombs were dropped, the aircraft was hit by enemy fire, though he has no clear recollection of it.

“I experienced some kind of a short-lived blackout and awoke outside the plane in a free fall at around 30,000 feet,” Malvin says. “I knew then we had been hit and there was nothing I could do about it. So I pulled the rip cord on my parachute and started to float at around 28,000 feet.

“I looked around and saw two Messerschmitts circling me. I knew they wouldn’t shoot me because of intelligence. They wanted intelligence from air crew members to find out what was going on.”

Suddenly, though, the German fighters stopped the aerial attack. Two American P-38 Lightning fighters had roared into the airspace.

“The Germans scooted out, and the P-38 pilots dipped their wings at me, as if to say, ‘Everything is OK now, buddy,’ ” Malvin says. “Then they pulled off because they had other areas to cover.”

Actually, everything really wasn’t that good.

“I later found out my plane was blown apart and only one other crew member survived, either the navigator or the bombardier,” he says.

After Malvin landed in a clearing amid some woods, he said he hid his parachute and started walking, “knowing that Germans knew I was in the area.” As he walked, he said it was his goal to make Switzerland, “a safe haven,” though he had no idea how long of a journey it would be.

“It started getting dark, and I kept walking on this narrow road. I couldn’t take a rest. I had to get out of there somehow,” he recalls. “First thing you know, as I’m walking, I heard some rustling alongside the road. I figured heck, it must be some animals.”

If it was just animals and no people around, he figured, it must be “a safe area.”

Yet the rustling continued, and Malvin’s thoughts played with him.

“I thought something was getting ready to eat me or attack me. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had to do something or it was the end,” he says. “I started singing and hollering, and it wasn’t long and the rustling stopped. I walked the whole night.”

The next day, he grew weary but continued his journey toward Switzerland. By the second night, he knew he needed to sleep.

“I found an open field, and there was a ditch crossing with a drainage pipe,” he says. “It was pretty big. It fit me comfortably.”

But when he awoke the next morning, he realized that several farmers had discovered him. “I thought I had been concealed completely in the pipe, but my legs were sticking out, and one of the farmers had taken a pitchfork and placed the tines of it around my foot and I couldn’t move,” Malvin says. “There were about four or five farmers, and one of them got the local police. I was put in solitary confinement and questioned.”

German interrogators did not break him, he said. “All I told them was my name, rank and serial number,” Malvin says with pride.

Soon after that, he was placed in a prisoner-of-war camp. But in February 1945, he and other prisoners, most of them officers, were ordered to make a 57-day forced march.

“The reason for the march was we were being used as a shield. The Germans were very afraid of the Russian troops, and they figured that they wanted to be captured by the Americans,” he says. “The marchers and their captors were about halfway between the advancing Russians and the lines of Allied tanks.”

Describing the march as “a floating holiday,” the wry Malvin says he and the other POWs eventually ended up at a small camp by a railroad station.

With the Allied troops fast approaching, he says, his stay at the camp was “short and sweet.”

In fact, it was but a night.

“We went to sleep that night, and when we woke up, the prison camp was wide-open,” he says. “The Germans had given up. We were not prisoners anymore.”

To get an idea of the physical toll that being a POW had taken on Malvin, he had weighed about 180 pounds when he was drafted; when he was liberated by the Allies, he weighed about 120.

Malvin was soon shipped to Camp Lucky Strike in France. Then he was homeward-bound, sailing into New York Harbor on a troop ship, arriving May 14, 1945.

Back in Buffalo, he worked at Pillsbury and later went to the University of Buffalo on the GI Bill and became a civil engineer. He worked for the New York State Department of Transportation, retiring in 1990.

He and his wife, the former Betty Platt, raised two children, and were married for 67 years before she died last June.

Malvin says he does not live in his war memories.

“If you want to hear my war story, that’s fine,” he says. “I tell it, and then I just let it go.”