Wall Township Officer Michael Malone

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: Wall Township Police Officer Fights For Recognition For World War II Hero

March 25, 2018 - 6:50 pm

WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J. (WCBS 880) -- A chance meeting between a Jersey Shore police officer and a World War II hero led to a strong friendship, and now an effort to honor the sacrifices that Maj. Gen. Harry Rockafeller made.

In this week’s Stories from Main Street, Sean Adams heads to Wall Township, New Jersey to meet Officer Michael Malone, who became best friends with Rockafeller thanks to a routine call.

Maj. Gen. Harry Rockafeller
Officer Michael Malone

Rockafeller died last year at the age of 100, and Malone believes his friend’s service and sacrifice warrants a statue in town.

At first glance, Rockafeller appeared to be a quiet, unassuming older gentleman.

“I grew up in this town. I was a cop in this town for almost a decade. I had no idea who this guy was or anything about him,” Malone said.

Five years ago, Malone, a Wall Township police officer, responded to Rockafeller’s home for a report of a suspicious vehicle.

“And I noticed his baseball cap. He was wearing a ball cap that said, ‘Patton’s best.’ So I said, ‘Sir, did you serve under Patton?’” Malone said. “And he was surprised that I even knew who Patton was.”

Maj. Gen. Harry Rockafeller
Officer Michael Malone

It turned out Rockafeller was a retired major general. During World War II, he earned three Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

Rockafeller was a captain in the 51st Infantry Battalion in the 4th Armored Division. Most notably, Malone explained, the battalion pushed north into the town of Bastogne in Belgium as it was surrounded by the Germans in December 1944.

4th Armored Division
Officer Michael Malone

The 101st Airborne Division, a paratrooper unit, was surrounded at Bastogne and needed relief. It was Rockafeller and the 4th Armored Division that were the first to reach the 101st Airborne. The 4th Armored Division also had other heroic actions to their credit.

“The 4th Armored Division, one of the most incredible things that they did was they liberated the Ohrdruf concentration camp,” Malone said.

4th Armored Division, 51st Infantry Battalion
Officer Michael Malone

Rockafeller was promoted from captain to major under the command of Gen. George S. Patton, and he rose through the ranks of the Army Reserves after WWII ultimately being promoted to major general, commander of the 78th Division in the early 1970s.

Rockafeller also slogged through the Battle of the Bulge. At the time, his commanding officer was Maj. Gen. Hugh Gaffey, and Malone noted that Rockafeller was recommended three times for the Distinguished Service Cross, which is second to the Medal of Honor.

There is a conversation on record where Gaffey went to Patton and said, “General Patton, what do we have to do, get Rockafeller killed to get him the Distinguished Service Cross?” Malone said.

Patton replied: “Hugh, calm down. Don’t talk like that. We’re having a lot of problems with our awards people. The next time there’s a heroic action, make sure you get it to me and I’ll make sure we see it through.” But the war by then was wrapping up, and Rockafeller did not get the cross, Malone said.

The decorated general and the young police officer forged a friendship. Malone learned that Rockafeller was a widower who lived by himself after his wife passed away in 2006.

“We would go out to breakfast together. He came to my house for dinner, like I said, and you know, he came to my wedding,” Malone said.

Maj. Gen. Harry Rockafeller
Officer Michael Malone

Wall police checked in regularly with Rockafeller, did odd jobs, and even replaced a tattered American flag at the house. Malone also helped out during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, when Rockafeller lost power.

Rockafeller died last summer. Malone and the Wall Township Police Benevolent Association Local 234 are now raising money for a bronze sculpture of Rockefeller – a monument for all World War II veterans.

“He is the example of duty, honor, and sacrifice, and as police officers, that’s what we need to strive to be,” Malone said, “and when we see this monument that’s going to happen in front of our police department for the generations to come, it’s going to be the symbol of duty, honor, and sacrifice.”