Remembering Those Poor Bastards

Sixty-eight years ago this week, my father, Ralph “Pat” Malone, bored with being confined to barracks with the rest of the 401st bomb group, sneaked off his base at Deenthorpe, England, and rode a bicycle into the nearby village to a pub to meet a local girl he was sweet on. Hours later, as he rode back, he noticed that all of the lights on the base were on and, hidden behind a rise in the landscape, the 36 B-17s were already revving up.

He managed to get back on base, hop a ride to the flight line and jump into the Badland Bat on what would be his 28th mission. His crewmates had covered for him, as the Badland Bat was the lead plane of the 615th squadron and, as bombadier, he was supposed to be at the briefing with the plane’s navigator. He missed the commanding officer, Colonel Bowmen tell the men, “Gentlemen, remember the date, June 6, 1944. Remember it because your grandchildren will probably have to memorize it. This is D-Day.”

The planes took off and formed up over southern England with the rest of the 8th Air Force, then headed across the Channel. Looking down at the Armada, my father said there were so many ships that he thought he could cross the Channel on their decks and never get his feet wet. Despite being born in Bremerton, Washington and raised in Long Beach, he recalled that there were more ships in the Invasion that day than he had ever seen in one place before.

As they reached the Normandy coast, flying over Omaha and Utah beaches, he looked down from his unique position in the plexiglass nose. The landing areas flickered with flames and explosions from the siege of the capital ships just offshore. He could see the hundreds of landing craft heading in. He said into the intercom, “Those poor bastards.” There was a murmur of agreement from the rest of the crew.

They flew in only a few more miles. It was astonishing for these veterans of Schweinfurt, Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin to encounter no flak and no fighter planes. Five months before, they had been part of the raid on Oscherslaben, the greatest air battle in history, and had only been saved from fiery death by the Medal of Honor heroics of Major James Howard, who had single-handedly fought off 30 German fighters with his P-51.  But today, D-Day, the Luftwaffe was all but grounded; the dreaded black dots coming out of the sun never appeared.

As the bomber approached Ver-sur-Mer, just in from the beach, my father set the Norden bombsight’s cross-hairs on the target, took control of the Badland Bat away from the pilot, North Dakota farmer Paul Campbell, opened the bomb-bay doors . . .and when the moment came, hit the switch to drop the bombs. Only my father, looking into the bombsight, and the tail gunner saw them bloom across the landscape below.  It was a textbook run.

My father switched off the bombsight and Campbell, again in command — as he would be for a total of 80 missions — banked the Badland Bat for home. By 10:30 they had landed back at Deenthorpe and settled in for an early lunch. They congratulated each other on their easiest mission to date . . .and tried not to think of their fellow Americans fighting and dying on Normandy’s beaches.

Two weeks later, having completed his 30 missions, my father came home. 

  1. Charles Rapp

    There is a remote chance that when your father returned to the 401st base, he had to get past my father, a member of the attached military police company. My guess is that your father came in the back gate as it is closer to the Deenthorpe pub.

    Small world.

  2. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Lovely, thanks for this.

  3. She

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    And thank you to all the men and women who saw what had to be done and did it, whether in the air, on the land, on the sea or on the home front, never starting a day with the premise that the world owed them a living.

    In many cases, they served at tremendous cost to themselves and they kept those costs to themselves the rest of their lives.

    Thank you.

  4. David Knights

    Mr. Malone,

    Do you happen to have a photograph from your father of him and his plane?  If so, may I see it?

  5. gnarlydad

    Thank you for sharing this story. Such stories are light and life to the soul of the nation, indeed to any nation, longing for liberty.

  6. Mr. Bildo

    Like so many stories I’ve heard of those brave men, I’m in awe. 

    I, as the thankful recipient of their sacrifice, have nothing more to offer than “thank you” and the promise I will do what I can to further honor their sacrifice by helping to preserve the freedom they so honorably defended.

  7. Mel Foil

    I’m certain that at some point, an American infantry man training in Britain looked up at the B-17s heading for Berlin, and said, “those poor bastards,” and he was correct too.

  8. Whiskey Sam

    Wonderful story, Mike!  Thanks for sharing.

  9. David Williamson

    Mr Obama appears to have forgotten (or never knew).

  10. St. Salieri

    Thank you for that story, it was a wonderful reminder of the sacrifices made that day.

    At Walmart shortly after Saving Private Ryan came out, I fell into a conversation with two retirees who were working behind the sporting goods counter.  We talked about the war, D-Day, and the movie, they were both Pacific Theater vets, and they were moved by the film.

    One of the gentlemen spoke of his brother, one of those “poor bastards”.  His brother’s name was Floyd who was now gone, I don’t know his last name, he said that his brother would never talked about that day, except once:

    The first Thanksgiving Day after Floyd came home, their mother set a dish of dark red jello on the table for the meal, and his brother became outraged and made her take it away.  In an embarrassed silence the family meal resumed.  Afterwards the two brothers were smoking on the porch, and he asked Floyd what that was all about.  Floyd said, he couldn’t stand the sight of it, it was the sea that day, it looked like red jello as he waded ashore.  That was all he ever said about it.

  11. SooperMexican

    “Those poor bastards” did more on that day than most of us will ever do in our entire lives. God bless them for their bravery and selflessness. 

  12. Michael S. Malone
    C
    David Knights: Mr. Malone,

    Do you happen to have a photograph from your father of him and his plane?  If so, may I see it? · 5 hours ago

    Unfortunately, I’m up in Oregon on vacation.  Here’s the best I’ve got from here. 615th-Bomb-Squadron.jpg

    This B-17 has basically the same markings as the Badland Bat.

  13. David Knights

    I think your dad may have flown on Badland Bat II.  The original Badland Bat with the 615th was lost over Berlin in April of 1944 (before D-day)  See here.

    Badland Bat II seems to have survived well into 1945.  Here is a photo.  It is the second ship in the picture, just behind the aircraft in the immediate forground of the photo.

    44-837142-97638s.jpg

    I’d love to know more of his service to our country.  Thanks.

  14. Trink

    Michael.  That was a beautiful piece.  You honor your dad with that retelling.

    My dad was on bloody Omaha . . . but not until H+12.   I’ll always remember his recounting his experience . . . about the bodies stacked like cordwood as he and his men (ant-aircraft) crossed the beach.  Land mines were still killing men who straggled off the cleared paths.  

    We owe so much.

  15. John Davey

    Heroes were not uncommon in 1944. In the sky, on the sea, and on the land.

  16. Michael S. Malone
    C
    David Knights: I think your dad may have flown on Badland Bat II.  The original Badland Bat with the 615th was lost over Berlin in April of 1944 (before D-day)  See here.

    My father, in fact, flew both Badland Bat I and II.  He and the rest of his crew wereon leave when Badland Bat I was blown up over Berlin, killing all of the substitute crew (I believe).  This fact only underscores how lucky I am to be here.  My father’s crew was then given another B-17G, which they named Badland Bat II.  It survived the war.

    As for my father’s career, he did his 30 missions (32, actually) and came to theU.S.  He was stationed in Enid, Oklahoma, where he first met my mother. You can read about that in my latest book “Charlie’s Place” (here it is on amazon).

  17. Michael S. Malone
    C

    At the end of the war, my father, then a captain, re-enlisted as a sargeantin Army Intelligence, then transferred to the OSI with the creation of the Air Force.  He was an intelligence agent in North Africa, and bureau chief of counter-intelligence in Southern Germany (where I was born).  He had a lot of stories of spycraft, gun battles and capturing enemy agents.  We eventually came home to the States, where he was chief of security at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, and finally liaison between all of the intelligence agencies (CIA, FBI, Navy, Army, etc.) in Washington, DC.

    He retired in 1963 as a major with the DFC, the Air Medal with two battle stars,and the AF Commendation medal for his intelligence work.  We then movedto Silicon Valley, where he joined NASA for the Gemini and Apollo programs, had a couple heart attacks, retired, and learned to program computers.  

  18. Michael S. Malone
    C

    Through me, Steve Jobs gave him an Apple III computer, which enabled my fatherto overcome his dyslexia and become a writer.  He wrote travel pieces for the New York Times and became a celebrated beer journalist, all while travelling the world with my mom.  He also played a crucial role in establishing the Sunnyvale Historical Museum before he died in 1988.Once, when I told him that he had helped save civilization twice, in WWII and the Cold War, he just laughed.

  19. David Knights

    Great story.  Thanks for sharing.

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