Jim Malone was a twice-wounded World War II Army sharpshooter who once operated Cotati Oaks Hardware and who never allowed the pain from old injuries to halt his cross-country road adventures or volunteer work.

A good-natured and unflappable sort who years ago nearly scared a friend to death when the small airplane he was flying ran out of gas over Lake County, Malone died Sunday. He was 88.

"He was just a great, positive guy," said Steve Wiegert, a Vietnam veteran and fellow Purple Heart recipient. "He was an inspiration to us, quote, younger guys."

At the time of Malone's death at Petaluma Valley Hospital, plans were in the works for an April 20 party marking 68 years of marriage for him and the former Eleanor Klinker. They met shortly after the war, when both worked for the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway.

Eleanor Malone recalls that on their first date, he conveniently forgot his wallet.

James H. Malone was born in 1925 in Tecumseh, Neb. He was 9 when his family moved west to St. Helens, Ore., near Portland.

Malone was still short of graduating from high school when he went into the army in 1943. He was wounded twice in combat, most seriously as the 1st Armored Division engaged German troops in the battle for Anzio in Italy.

Badly hurt when a shell shattered a half-track truck, he was evacuated and ultimately hospitalized in Maryland. When his recovery allowed, he was moved to Walla Walla, Wash., closer to his home.

He was awarded two Purple Hearts for the injuries he sustained, and a Bronze Medal. He returned to St. Helens in 1945 on a medical discharge at the rank of sergeant.

He was working as a desk clerk for the railroad in Portland when he met his future wife, then an SP&S telegraph operator. They married in 1946.

Jim Malone left the railroad for the construction industry. He and Eleanor moved their family to Southern California in 1950 and he went to work for Standard Structures, a manufacturer of laminated wooden construction beams and arches.

Three years later, the firm transferred Malone to a new production plant in Windsor. He and his family were living in Santa Rosa when he became a general contractor, building and remodeling homes.

In 1963, Malone purchased the Cotati Oaks Hardware store, located at the time on Highway 116. He provided building materials for many of the early homes built in Rohnert Park.

He operated the business for about a decade and then sold it and went into semi-retirement, continuing to work part-time selling steel buildings.

Malone counted among his closest friends Angelo and Art Ibleto, the Italian immigrants who went into the meat and pasta business in Sonoma County.

Art Ibleto recalled he and Malone taking flying lessons together and agreeing to go into the air in separate airplanes for required 100-mile solo flights. They were over Lake County when Malone told Ibleto by radio he had a problem: he was nearly out of fuel.

They were flying close to each other when the engine of Malone's plane quit and the propeller stopped spinning. Ibleto did a quick scan for a place where Malone could land.

He spotted a straight country road and directed his friend to head for it. He remembers assuring Malone, "You got enough room to land a 747."

Ibleto said that watching Malone descend toward that road made for "the longest two minutes of my life." He tried to make his pal feel better by noting that, seeing how there was no gas in his plane, "there's no way you can burn up."

Malone found little comfort in that. He did manage to land safely.

He and Ibleto made more memories when the immigrant and his wife, Vicki, escorted the Malones to Italy for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1971.

"He was one of the finest men who you ever want to meet," Ibleto said.

In retirement, the Malones traveled the nation in a motor home. An avid salmon fisherman, Jim Malone also told a story of the day his and a buddy's boat sank off Bodega Bay.

Malone was active in the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and despite his pains would spend long hours offering paper "viola" flowers to passersby and accepting donations for services to wounded veterans.

He also helped with a program that collects used cell phones and surrenders them to a recycling company in exchange for phone cards sent to U.S. troops deployed overseas or undergoing treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital in San Francisco.

"Jim Malone was a true American patriot by anyone's definition," said Larry Williams, a leader of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "Jim was very proud of his military service, yet he never boasted about anything he experienced."

In addition to his wife in Rohnert Park, Malone is survived by sons Gary Malone, also of Rohnert Park, and Greg Malone of Cotati, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be private. Malone's family suggests memorials contributions to MOPH Chapter 78, c/o John Logan, 2140 Bock St., Santa Rosa CA 95403.