Having fought Bradley's war, both he and this writer feel it's time to bring him home. He was in a great hurry then--no less so this writer now, August 1999. The new millennium is fast approaching! In the manner of the comedian, Jack Benny, both Bradley and this writer are still "39" . . . but then there is reality!
On July 14, 1944 Bradley received the really good news all airmen were waiting for! By Special Orders No. 195, Hq., 2nd Bombardment Division, AAF 147, issued on July 14, 1944, it was ordered that 1st Lt. Herbert A Bradley, Jr. and others, . . ."having completed an operational tour, are relieved from assignment to the 453rd Bomb Group and are assigned to Casual Pool, 12th Replacement Control Depot, AAF, Station 591, effective this date."(Bradley had been promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant on May 23, 1944.)--they had "completed an operational tour", indeed!
Then by further orders (Letter Orders No. 7-664, Ha. WBS CZ ETO USA) Bradley was ordered to the 12th Replacement Depot (AVN). By S.O. No. 192 of that organization on July 27, 1944 he was given orders for shipment to the States. Jones, Croft and Stein received the same orders. The four officers were to be together on the voyage home.
They were told to place their luggage out on the beach near the pier for inspection. All of the servicemen gathered there were from the Air Force. The steamship, USS LaFayette, an American liner, was provided for their return to the States. They departed o/a July 29, 1944. Bradley said of it and of the voyage, "The ship--this time an ocean ship, not an air ship, was great--crowded, yes--but not 'double-loaded' as became the case for troop transports when the war in Europe ended. It was my first ocean voyage. Happily I did not become sea--sick. The voyage took about one week. There was no convoy and there were no escorts, but as a precaution, the ship did a 'zig-zag' course. Actually, the Battle of the Atlantic, early in the war, had removed the German submarine threat."
One interesting aspect of the voyage to the States was the discovery that the USS LaFayette also carried a large contingent of German prisoners-of-war. Bradley said of this, "Fred Stein was of German background and spoke the German language. We went down where the prisoners were being held and learned that among them were soldiers that had not received proper care after being wounded. German physicians had amputated legs in a manner unsuitable for use of artificial limbs. Our American MDs had to re-do the surgery. This was after St Lo had been taken by the Allies and Caen had fallen to the British and the Allies had broken the stalemate at the beaches and were racing across Normandy. We told them that for Germany it would soon be 'alles kaput--all is finished. Stein said they were still as arrogant as Nazi SS troopers, saying Germany may have lost a battle but would win the war. Well, we were wrong to say it was 'alles kaput' for the German Army. The war continued until May 1945!"
The USS LaFayette docked o/a August 5, 1944 at the port of Boston. The men were trucked to a nearby airbase. To the surprise of the Jones crew, they learned that the town nearest the base was Attleborough, Massachusetts! They had come full circle in a very short time--Attleborough, England to its namesake town in Massachusetts. Our guys
slipped through the fence surrounding the base, intent on finding a bar. The place they found was a 'pub' in the English fashion--even dart throwers and 'bitters', not beer, was being served. Bradley said, "We told them we had just come from Attleborough, England. They were amazed. Some said they had visited that city, just to see the place for which their city was named! This reflected our common heritage with the English. I used to ride a bike into Attleborough, England to go to a movie--a 10-15 minute ride."
Soon Bradley and the others were sent by rail to camps near their homes. At that point, these four separated.
Bradley described events that followed. "I was sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois--above Chicago. I got there about August 10. While en route, somewhere in Ohio our train stopped for water (remember, this was a steam engine!). We were about 15 minutes out of Akron, Ohio where my Dad lived. I jumped off the train, phoned my Dad at his office and told him where we were. He rushed to the railway station. When our train went through, I stood on the steps of the car and we waved to each other--an emotional moment for both of us. Then he came to Chicago and I went in from Fort Sheridan to see him.
"From Fort Sheridan I was to go to Miami Beach, Florida where the Air Force operated some 'rest' facilities for airmen returning from combat service. But, lucky guy, I got a 23-day leave and delay en route and hurried down to Monticello. God, it was great to be on that Wabash 'Banner Blue' train again--the closer I got to my hometown the more anxious I became! After all, I hadn't seen my sweetheart for a long time. Cynthia was waiting at the station--Oh, happy day!
"While at home in Monticello I needed to get in my required flying time--I was still in the Air Force. While on board the USS LaFayette I had met Lt. Lewis Burtis whose home was in Champaign, not far from the airbase at Rantoul, Illinois. I contacted him and we went to the airbase and checked out an AT-6. He had married a Bement, Illinois girl (Bement-six miles south of Monticello.) So we flew to Bement and over her farm and back to the base at Rantoul.
"When my leave was up, about September 9, Cynthia and I went to Miami Beach. We had a great two weeks together. That was a great deal! All airmen, officers and enlisted men, were sent to Miami Beach after completing their tours. The Air Force had leased all of those great hotels along the waterfront. It was two weeks of R and R--rest, recuperation--and I might add, 'reunion' for Cynthia and me! Lt. Burtis and his wife were there at the same time. The Air Force rented boats for our use, so we went out deep sea fishing. I had no relatives living in Florida at that time. On September 18, 1944 I received orders to report to the Midland Army Air Field at Midland, Texas, so Cynthia returned to Monticello.
"At Midland I was placed in the AAF Instruction School. I was to become a bombardier instructor. I'd never had navigation so they made me take a six-week course. It was dead reckoning navigation. Fred Stein would have been blown away had he known that! And I received more training in 'bombing the bug'--bombardiering. The course took two months and I completed it on November 22.
"When I completed the course at Midland, orders were cut for me to report to the San Angelo Air Field at San Angelo, Texas--below Midland. After being there a couple of weeks, I put in for a leave--nothing like a little more 'R and R', you know, and I got it--fifteen-day leave with three days' travel time. I headed for home. The leave was granted December 19, 1944 so we had Christmas at home--and what a Christmas it was, with Cynthia, the Norrises, with my mother, grandmother Nannie Griffith, and all! While in
Monticello I bought a car--a 1940 Chrysler Club Coupe. Remember, auto manufacturing had gone to war. I felt lucky to get this 1940 model car.
"At San Angelo I was assigned to a Training Squadron. I began bombardier instruction with four--only four--cadets. About two weeks before the cadets' training was completed I was transferred to another airbase. I left San Angelo May 4, 1945.
"Then I was sent to Lemoore Army Air Base at Lemoore, California for a very short time. I never knew why--just to put me in the pipeline, I guess. On May 21, 1945 I was released from the Lemoore assignment and assigned to the 425th AAF Base Unit (4th AF), Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. As things worked out, I was at Gowen until September 21, 1945. Cynthia and I drove our Chrysler from Lemoore to Gowen. We were fortunate to rent a basement apartment there. Housing was in very short supply. It was actually a motel, in sight of the State Capitol Building.
"I was classified as permanent party at Gowen and on July 21, 1945 I was appointed permanent Assistant Finance Officer. I understood they wanted to make appointments to positions that would give experience that would be useful to us when we returned to civilian life. My records indicated that I had worked in a bank, so I became a finance officer. Good planning!
"And then came that historic day--August 14, 1945--the day the Empire of Japan surrendered! Gowen became a Separation Center. I had enough 'points' (service points that counted for discharge from the Army) so I applied for discharge. I was offered the rank of Captain, AAF Reserves, to which I said, 'No, thanks!' I was separated from service as a First Lieutenant on September 29, 1945.
"My Separation Qualification Record states that somewhere along the line our 453rd Bombardment Group received a Presidential Unit Citation. I hadn't known that.
"Another small point--an Army SNAFU. At Gowen I received an Honorable Discharge. About two weeks after I got home I got a letter telling me that I should have gotten a Separation from Service, rather than an Honorable Discharge--the latter being for discharge of enlisted men. Small matter--I filed both papers with the Piatt County Clerk in Monticello.
"In all of this story of my Air Force service, the name of General Henry A. 'Hap' Arnold has seldom been mentioned. But he was the Commanding General of all United States Air Forces worldwide . . . and had held that position from the beginning of the war. At the time of my separation from service, I received General Arnold's Commendation for Meritorious Service. It read, 'The Commanding General, Army Air Forces extends the gratitude of the UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES to 1st Lt. Herbert A. Bradley, Jr., 075310, whose whole--hearted and sincere services contributed to the successful prosecution of World War LI against those who sought to subjugate the civilized world.'
"So . . . THIS IS IT! had become IT IS ENDED! We prepared to return to Monticello. Our introduction to civilian life came as an auto accident in Boise. A tire on our Chrysler had gone as far as it could go. The blow--out caused me to hit a culvert. The best we could do to prepare for our drive home was to secure temporary repairs by a garage in Twin Falls, Idaho. We did get home safely.
"Oh, one more thing--it seems appropriate that I complete this story with the poem, THE LAST OF THE BOMBARDIERS.
THE LAST OF THE BOMBARDIERS
The night was cold and dreary
The rain was a solid sheet.
Around Jake's stove, the boys had thronged
Each shoving and pushing for heat.
We were reminiscing and cracking jokes
And having a helluva' binge
When there came a tap on the tavern door
And it opened with a creaking hinge.
With the force of Satan's blowers
The gale beat in the room
Steering before its leaping fury
A figure of dismal gloom . . .
A hunched and shriveled apparition
Straining to close the oaken door.
Then, turning about with a maniacal glare,
He crossed the tavern floor.
The boys were still and silent
For the silence no sound would mar
And even the tempest fury sank
As he clutched the tavern bar.
His clothes hung down in ribbons,
Perhaps were forest green.
Beneath his cap, at a rakish tip,
His matted hair was seen.
Upon his mud-encrusted feet
A pair of strapless shoes were spied.
While here and there on his sodden clothes
Gleamed brass of tarnished pride.
But as he turned from the tavern bar
Above his heart was seen
A pair of polished silver wings
Reflecting the light serene.
He cast his wild and glooming stare
Around the crowded room
Then raising the green stuff in his glass
He croaked these words of doom:
"Raise your glasses high, boys,
Drink to your visitor's tears
For you see before you
The last of the Bombardiers!"
We drank to him, this solid toast
To the fears of a ghastly show.
Then, slowly sinking into our seats
He continued his tale of woe.
"Once I was proud and eager
Laughing and loving all day,
Eager to join the Air Corps;
Longing to shout 'Bombs Away'.
Then came preflight and torture
My day of training began.
Up each morning at daylight,
In bed each night at ten.
Then came long days at Kirtland
But at last I was up in the sky!
Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! Oh how thrilling,
But why do I have to fly?"
"My brain was loaded with figures,
My stomach was loaded with gas,
My hands were covered with bombsight,
Tortures for brave men to pass.
But then came the day when we dropped 'em;
My God! Could it be true?
A shack in the middle of the desert
Demolished by bombs from the blue!"
"Then came the day that I finished.
How proud of my wings and my bar.
Little I knew what awaited me
Across the sea so far.
Soon the phases were conquered,
The wine and the women behind,
As across the oceans we sped
To the land of 'Watch on the Rhine'!"
"Eagerly I started my missions.
Twenty-five they told us was all.
Over Hamburg, Frankfort and Bremen,
My God, how the flak did fall!
Then came the fighters of Goering
Blazing a trail of flame,
Trying to break our formation,
Paying the price for fame."
"At last my missions were over,
At last the war did end,
And I went back to my country
Back to the hearts of men.
At last my glory ended,
Like a star, in morn it died.
I dropped like a bum in the gutter,
Down from my tragic pride."
"By the world I was soon forgotten,
No one mourned for me.
As over the world I've wandered
Across the boundless sea.
So drink to me again, boys,
Through the mist of crocodile tears,
For when I'm gone, no one will mourn
For the last of the Bombardiers!"
Now with these words he cast his glass
To the dust of the tavern floor.
And mustering a gleam of self respect,
He stalked to the tavern door.
As he opened it, he glanced around
With half a disdainful sneer.
And twisted lips proclaimed these words:
"The Last of the Bombardiers."
(John C. Woodley's version)
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