Donnybrook: The Greatest Generation, Irish Purple Heart Winner

Donnybrook: The Greatest Generation  
by John Myers

Robert James O’Malley died in February 2021 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 98. O’Malley, a proud son of Cleveland, was like so many Irish Clevelanders of his generation; he had a hard scrabble childhood growing up on the near-west side of Cleveland.

He joined the building trades; fought fascist dictators as a soldier; was a good public servant and a great human; living a life of little fanfare, middle class economics, and thousands of friends. 

We salute the quiet, everyday contributions to our community, our Nation, and our world by these members of the Greatest Generation, living and watching history each day.  Bob ‘earned’ his Purple Heart on the same snowcapped mountain in Italy, on the same day as his fellow 10th Mountain Division member, Senator Robert Dole. 

This Bob left Cleveland to join the Congressional Staff of his good friend, Robert Emmett Sweeney, in Washington, but he always had Cleveland in his head and heart. He was a cherished friend of Cleveland Congressman James V. Stanton. 

Every Sunday, Bob took a taxi to St. Stephen’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, a church close to the Whitehouse, also frequented by JFK.  O’Malley lived in a modest efficiency across the street from the historic Omni-Shoreham Hotel, the sight of everything from FDR’s inaugural ball to late night, bipartisan poker games with President Truman, to hosting the Beatles on their first trip to the U.S. 

Not being much of a cook, Bob walked across the street every day for most meals at the Shoreman’s dinning room.  In fact, the hotel staff put a plaque up at his ‘usual’ table.  Bob will be buried at Arlington Cemetery, and now more than ever, we all state the 10th Mountain’s motto: “Climb to Glory” Bob, you deserve it. 

Purple Heart Winner
Several years ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid honored his good friend with these words, which were entered into the Congressional record in 2010:

Mr. Reid:  Mr. President, every one of our servicemembers deserves the unqualified appreciation and admiration of the Senate and our entire Nation.  Today, I wish to salute the service of one such soldier, a man who first answered his country’s call in World War II and has not stopped.

Bob O’Malley served our nation with distinction in the 10th Mountain Division in combat in Europe.  He was a sergeant and a squad leader who led his men bravely and with honor.  He put his life on the line on many occasions to protect his men and to fight for freedom against Nazi Germany and was recognized with his squad’s admiration, the Combat Infantry Badge and, because he was wounded, a Purple Heart. 

But he has not stopped serving his country.  Bob came to Washington in 1965 and worked for Congressman Robert E. Sweeney before starting a 27-year career with the Doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives.  That is where I first met him, as a young Member of Congress.  The Doorkeeper, Mr. Molloy, and Mr. O’Malley had a suite of offices and it was kind of a hangout for Democratic members of the House; especially it was a way for new Members of the Congress to become acquainted with what was going on over there.  They were very caring about new Members and always pointed us in the right direction.  I have always remembered those two men for all the good deeds they did on my behalf.

His was a 27-year career with the Doorkeeper.  As I indicated, that is where I met him.  By the time the war in Afghanistan started in 2002, Bob had retired from service in the House of Representatives.  Most retirees are content to seek a well-earned life of leisure, but Sergeant O’Malley did not.  He signed up for a new and worthy mission, waking every day to serve our Nation’s wounded warriors.  When the war started, he went back to work as a volunteer-supporting and caring for the men and women of the 10th Mountain Division, his old unit.  He has made countless visits to Walter Reed, this great medical center where these wounded warriors come to recuperate.  On all these visits to Walter Reed, he spent countless hours talking and sharing stories about the Division and taking his fellow veterans to ball games and other events, including the sharing of meals on many occasions.  When many of these wounded warriors could not make it home for the holiday, Bob would reach into his own pocket and pay for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New years dinners for soldiers and their families at some of the finest eateries in the Washington, D.C. area.  Bob says that helping soldiers recover from their war injuries has added years to his life.  We know it has added years to the lives of those he helps. 

Bob O’Malley would be the first to tell you this is not a one-man mission. He has had help from many different areas. When he decided to help those wounded on the battlefield, for example, he enlisted the help of another veteran and fellow Clevelander, Dom Visconsi, Sr., an original member of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II.  He asked Dom to help and Dom was happy to help entertain and support these troops.  Many of Bob’s friends soon joined the cause as well, and they are a constant presence for the soldiers, whether here or at home.  Our Army would not be the best place in the world without the work of veterans such as Sergeant O’Malley, whose life has been synonymous with service, sacrifice, and selflessness.

He is an inspiration to me, our Armed Forces, and our country.  He is a hero, and I am proud to call him a friend. 

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