Belgium / Biography
Sergeant Donald ’Don’ Malarkey was a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division. Coming from Oregon in the USA, Malarkey first saw frontline service in 1944 in Normandy, then in the Netherlands, and finally in the Belgian Ardennes during the winter of 1944 to 1945. He fought at that time in Bois Jacques (Jack’s Wood) with the famous Easy Company.
In his memoirs, Malarkey was able to talk about the events that he experienced in Bastogne, in the foxholes of Bois Jacques. His testimony is chilling and illustrates the despair of all GIs, stuck in their precarious positions in the woods in extreme climate conditions:
“Bastogne was challenging us in ways no other place had. We had no artillery power and no airpower. We were low on ammo and food. The men were cold, fearful, exhausted. I’ve heard a soldier loses his effectiveness in combat after about 90 days; we’d been in action for 107 since Normandy. This wasn’t exactly how any of us had expected to spend Christmas 1944. As if our situation wasn’t already ominous enough, word filtered through Easy’s ranks from a medic back in Bastogne: The Germans had closed the circle. The 101st Airborne was now completely surrounded, but as [Major Richard] Winters would remind us, “We’re used to that. We’re paratroopers.”
Malarkey later accompanied his unit into Germany and then into Austria. After the war he was demobilised, went back to school and got married. Once retired, he participated in many events and conferences related to the history of Easy Company.
One of the most famous was undoubtedly his meeting with Gefreiter (Private) Fritz Engelbert, a German soldier from the Panzer Lehr Division. Organised for the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in December 2004, it included a visit together to the Bois Jacques. Like Malarkey, the former German soldier survived the Ardennes. Fritz was later taken prisoner by U.S. forces during the retreat into Germany.
Over the anniversary meeting, the two veterans exchanged stories about their war experiences. But above all, they shared words of peace, shaking hands, symbolic of the reconciliation between people and saying, “Never let this happen again.”
Malarkey died on 30 September 2017. His involvement in the Bois Jacques fighting was immortalised in the Band of Brothers TV series, with Malarkey being portrayed by actor Scott Grimes.