A Golden Shellback, Ruppert Malone

Published 11:04 pm Monday, March 24, 2008

For six years a local former business owner served in the United States Navy as a communications officer where he participated in a number of famous WWII battles.

Rupert Malone, former owner and operator of Carquest Auto Parts, voluntarily joined the Navy on June 30, 1940. After enlisting in military communications school in San Diego he worked as a radio operator handling Morse Code and some short distance voice communications for the Navy.

“You couldn’t reach far off places with voice during that time,” Malone said.

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His duties were mostly based on ship to ship and ship to shore communications. Malone and his brother, Ottis, were both assigned to the Admiral, since they both exuded high typing and communications skills, he said. Anytime the Admiral needed to communicate with someone, Malone and his brother were involved.

Malone and his brother, who was older than he by two years, were first assigned to serve on the U.S.S. Chester. They also served on a number of other ships, including the St. Louis and the Honolulu and the North Hampton. The only time in their military career that he and his brother were separated was when a ship he and his brother were on was attacked and sunk. For a time neither knew if the other was all right because they had been rescued by separate ships. A few days later they were reunited and reassigned to a new ship.

The fleet Malone was assigned to was stationed at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 at the time it was bombed. Due to a mission the fleet was assigned, and a chance propeller problem, the fleet was not docked at Pearl Harbor during the attack, Malone said.

Their mission involved transporting six pilots and their aircraft to Wake Island, supplying the extent of that island’s air defense, Malone said. On the way back to Pearl Harbor something got hung up in a propeller so the fleet stopped to fix it.

“That delayed us enough that we were not in the harbor at the time of the attack,” Malone said.

Their ship spotted and shot down one of the infamous Zeros that had attacked the harbor. When their fleet arrived at Pearl Harbor to refuel, oil and fuel were aflame on the water. For a time after the attack theirs was the only fleet at Pearl Harbor.

In April of 1942, he and his fellow crew escorted General “Jimmy” Doolittle for the infamous bombing of Tokyo. During that mission Malone and his brother were aboard the same ship in a fleet that was escorting the U.S.S. Hornet. For press reasons the Hornet was called the “Shangri-La” but the crew referred to the Hornet as the “Shangri-La” because the crew knew not where they were going.

While on the way to Tokyo Malone said a Japanese fishing vessel spotted the fleet and notified Japanese officials. In response, an air raid was prematurely launched.

Malone said he was in the same fleet as the Hornet for its final mission, where it was attacked by Japanese forces in late October of 1942 off the Santa Cruz islands. After the surviving crew from the Hornet was rescued American forces finished the Hornet off, sinking it to keep it out of Japanese hands, Malone said.

Another major battle Malone said he participated in was the Battle of Midway in June of 1942. During that battle Malone said he communicated with fighter pilots of the battle.

Malone and his brother parted military ways when Malone was chosen to attend Officer Candidate School at Purdue University in Indiana in 1943. While in school Malone said he came down with polio and had to drop out. Malone decided not to return to school because his time was almost up and if he had completed the schooling he would have to re-enlist another ten years. In June of 1946 Malone left the military after six years of service.

After working a few different jobs selling auto parts and working for a car dealership Malone moved to Picayune from north Mississippi where he opened up what is now Carquest Auto Parts in 1955. Malone said Carquest was born out of a request by a soon to be business partner who asked him to help open a car parts store in Picayune. Years later Malone bought the business partner out and ran the store until he gave it to his two sons. To this day his two sons, Keith and David, run the store.

“I just passed the debt on down to them,” Malone said.

These days Malone plays golf regularly, some times four times a week and is an honorary lifetime member.

“They figured I wasn’t going to live much longer and gave me a ‘rest of my life’ membership,” Malone said.

Malone prides himself on being a Golden Shellback, or someone who has passed the equator past the 180th meridian. Anyone who has not been below the equator is considered a pollywog, he said.