Over dinner at Oak Hammock John Amott, a widower, recalled some of his experiences during World War II and later as an officer in the U. S. Foreign Service:
We were sitting in the stadium cheering the [Washington] Redskins on against the [Philadelphia] Eagles when the loudspeaker came on: “General So and So report to your office. Admiral So and So call your office immediately.” It kept calling one big shot after another. We wondered what in the world’s going on. Wasn’t long before we found out: Pearl Harbor.
Spying on the Japanese A Guest of Emperor Hirohito
I was very lucky. I was in a liberal arts program at Georgetown University and pretty soon I was studying Japanese courtesy of the Jesuits at the university and the U. S. Army. I was finishing the Japanese course when the Army forgot something—hey, this guy hasn’t had basic training and he needs crypt work. (Laughs.) So they sent me to Camp Crowder for basic training and cryptography.
I was part of the Signal Corps. Toward the end of the war, my outfit was renamed the Army Security Agency. I was stationed at Arlington Hall for the duration of the war and promoted to Tech Sergeant. I worked on Japanese air traffic. I’d get this piece of paper with code on it and try to figure it out and translate it into English. “Purple” was the Japanese cipher machine that had codes. We and the Navy were able to crack those codes. We had a woman we called “Purple Lady.” I don’t recall her name. She was rather mysterious.* She was very good at solving Japanese Purple puzzles. We seemed to have the best luck when she was wearing her purple dress. (Laughs.) We sent flight plans of enemy planes to our carriers and they sent out planes to intercept the Japanese. We all cheered the downing of Yamamoto.
Who got the Yamamoto flight plan?
I don’t know. Maybe somebody at one of our military outstations!* Each of us did his or her job and had minimal contact with others. It was always need to know.
Earlier you said something about being among the first to invade Japan.
The scuttlebutt—and it sounded pretty reliable—was MacArthur wanted everybody who’d been in the U.S. the whole time to be in the first wave. God, was I scared! When they dropped A-bombs and it was all over, I can’t describe how relieved I was. Everybody I’ve ever known who was in service then will tell you, thank God for that bomb!
What are some of the highlights of your foreign-service career?
My first post was Brazil. Again I was lucky. I met Ruth and she spoke six languages. She came from a prominent Brazilian family. I found out she was the winner of a Shakespeare essay contest and made it a point to meet her. Back then you couldn’t marry a foreign national and stay employed. I had to resign to marry her. They investigated her and when she was cleared by security, I got my job back.
What do you remember most about being a Foreign Service officer during the Cold War?
The Berlin Airlift was certainly a high point. I worked with British, French, and West German officials. We set up a kind of FAA organization to check on flights in and out of Berlin. It was a very tense time. We had to keep Tempelhof Airport open. Ruth and I were living in Bonn. I had to fly out of Frankfurt to Berlin in a narrow air corridor. Russian fighters flew on each side of us. We were on pins and needles, afraid if our plane strayed from the corridor we’d be shot down. The Russians flew very close to us, but we always got through. There were a few crashes—American and Russian—but we came out on top in that crisis. I went through Checkpoint Charlie on trips to our American Legation in East Berlin. The Soviets had a legation in West Germany.
My Japan assignment was very memorable. I was part of the American delegation that attended Emperor Hirohito’s birthday celebration, April 29, 1952. Our attendance marked the formal recognition of Japan’s independence from American occupation. The ambassador and his wife entered the imperial room first followed by the rest of us. The emperor stood on a dais. He wore a suit and the empress was dressed in traditional clothes. Each of us bowed to the emperor and then bowed to the empress. The emperor did not speak. The protocol was you don’t turn your back on the emperor. Ruth and I eased out of the room sideways glancing under our elbows to see where the heck we were going. (Laughs.) They served us refreshments in another room. We were told we could take the china we ate on as gifts from the emperor. We got 5 pieces but unfortunately I broke 2 and have only 3 left. I’m being awfully careful with them. Here is a picture my wife Ruth and me taken outside our Embassy quarters just before we left to meet the Emperor.
[* The important contributions of women to the Allied effort in World War II have not been fully examined or recognized. Writecorner Press seeks more information about the “Purple Lady” who apparently did invaluable work at Arlington Hall during the war. Send any details to email@example.com or by regular mail to: Writecorner Press P. O. Box 140310 Gainesville, FL 32614. We would be happy to publish this information and credit its source.]
[* Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy. On April 18, 1943, over Bougainville, U. S. Army planes shot down the admiral’s plane, killing him. Only one of the many sources I’ve consulted mention the name of a person involved in direct intelligence about the admiral’s flight. According to Daniel L. Haulman in Air Power History, Vol. 50, 2003, Marine Major Alva B. Lasswell, one of the intelligence analysts at Pearl Harbor's Fleet Radio Unit, received and decoded the message containing Yamamoto’s flight plan. Other personnel may also have had a hand in intercepting and cracking the Yamamoto code.]
Hal Bingham is a widower, a retired surgeon, a World War II veteran, a Korean War-era veteran, and a clarinetist. He has five children and six grandchildren. Like John Amott, the previous narrator, Hal belongs to the Oak Hammock music group that practices every Monday and gives holiday concerts for the residents. I asked if I could meet with Hal and learn more about his experiences as a combat soldier and a surgeon. He invited me to his Oak Hammock apartment on May 28, 2009. Hal later gave me more information on Dec. 3, 2009, and Feb. 24, 2010. The war experiences that he recounts in this oral history also appear in his book Son of Bitche. The book gives vivid details and insights about the U. S. Army 100th Infantry Division's conquest of the German stronghold at Bitche, France. Information on how to acquire the book follows Hal’s narrative about his combat and his service in the Army of Occupation in Germany.
Hardships of Resident Surgery. Reconstructive Surgeon in Africa.
I completed 8 years of medical school at Kansas, 4½ years of general surgery at Iowa, 2 years of reconstructive surgery at Kansas. I also had an Army internship. I would operate 12, 14, sometimes 15 hours a day. It was just routine. Sometimes I went without eating, never got enough sleep. Couldn’t believe what I was doing as a resident surgeon. It was like the infantry. Infantry and general resident surgery are about the same: No rest! You treat the body terribly. I was 37 before I finally got a faculty post at Missouri. My last position was here at UF. I got cancer, had a kidney taken out in 1989. That year I was also approved for a sabbatical in Africa. I had the operation, recovered, and went to Africa. I was part of an international team of reconstructive surgeons working for the African Medical Research and Educational Foundation. We did about everything. I tried to stay out of the head and belly. They flew us into the bush in single engine planes. The pilots were international, too, from all over. We treated snake bites, hyena bites, cancer, birth defects, cleft palate, leprosy, and other things. Many had leprosy in the face and hands. When leprosy hits the face, it can cause the nose to shrink back into the face. Leprosy attacks the nerves in the hand. The person can’t use the hand. I had to transfer tendons to deal with the problem.
My wife Mary Ann was a nurse. It was 15 years before she got to operate with me. That was in Africa. She said, “You know, you’re not a bad surgeon.” (Laughs.) We’re from Kansas and met as sophomores in high school. Got married in 1948! She was very patient during all my years in medical school. A great help! And we were raising a family which turned out to be two sons and three daughters, and eventually six grandchildren. She died at 80 a few years ago. She got a staph infection probably the result of a back operation. She was a wonderful woman!
Hal and Mary Ann Bingham near the Gulf of Aqaba on a trip to the Middle East, early 1997
Soldier Son of Bitche in World War II
I was in the 399th Army Infantry Regiment, 100th Division. I qualified in almost every weapon the infantry had. We landed at Marseilles in late 1944 and went up the Rhone Valley. We were part of the large European invasion force. We hit stiff resistance at Alsace-Lorraine and really got into it at Bitche. We lost a battle outside Bitche. That was December of ’44. Fort de Bitche, I tell you it was a bitch. The fortifications were part of the Maginot Line. Almost impregnable, walls probably 14 feet thick or more! That stronghold was built in the 16th century and no one had ever taken it, not even the Germans in 1940. In March 1945 we took it. We drove the Krauts off and we became known as Sons of Bitche (says it in French and English plural bitches—laughs.) Yeah, that was really the name we’re known as to this day. After that campaign, we swung south, bypassed Heidelberg and crossed the Neckar River and caught hell at Heilbronn. We thought the Krauts were pretty much through, but they blasted away at us.
I was a PFC, acting squad leader. Outside Stuttgart my squad flushed out a bunch of Germans. One came walking up holding a white flag and said “viel soldaten.” [many soldiers] I told my guys, “Take your safeties off! It’s a trap.” This hauptmann [captain], comes up and says in good English, “Who is in command here?” I said, “I am sir.” He said, “I am not going to surrender to you. I will surrender to your captain.” I said, “If you’ll stack arms, sir, I’ll march you two or three miles to my captain.” So we marched all 184 of ’em down the road. By that time we’d had a number of casualties, including 120 killed. That’s about a whole company.
What do you remember most about your combat?
It was all hell, I tell you, especially Nordwind. Nordwind—that was the name of the Kraut counterattack at Bitche, January ’45. They had very good weapons. They came at us in frontal charges, dumb stuff really! Looked like they might’ve been drugged up. We took a lot of ’em out. You’re shooting an M-1rifle and most of the time you don’t know who you’re hitting. Our right flank gave way. For a few days we were surrounded. Krauts hit us with a helluva artillery barrage. Those 88’s they had were bad weapons. We didn't have artillery equal to the 88. Their tanks were better than ours. The German Luger was more accurate than the 45. The 45 couldn't hit the side of a barn door.* (Laughs.)
In another battle near Bitche, they put a 20 millimeter ack-ack gun on us! We retreated like jackrabbits. We’re trying to regroup and I start digging a hole. Lieutenant Emory says, “Bingham, what the hell you doin’?” “Diggin’ a foxhole, sir!” He says, “No you’re not. We’re gonna counterattack.”
Next day was a hard one for me. About broke me! Dead all over the place, GIs, Krauts. They executed three of ours. Found ’em hands tied behind their back, shot in the head, executed by some Kraut! I knew a lot of the dead. One was Cooper. One was a lieutenant from Virginia, came from a famous Civil War family—forgot his name—dead in his foxhole. I just sat down, almost done in! (Hal leans forward in his chair, face red, head in hands.)
Hal, if this is getting too personal, we can stop.
Naw, you wanna know, so I’m tellin’ you. They took some of us off the line then. Felt good to get a hot meal, bath, change of clothes. We’d been on the line three months eating nothing but K rations, dirty as hell. Not long we were back on the line.
Those situations you don’t know who you kill. Only ones I’m fairly certain of was when we were attacking a goddamn hill. Had a tank with us. It attracted artillery fire. Raining hard. Got to the base of this damn hill. Ordered to attack. We moved up and Krauts pinned us down. Lieutenant says, “Bingham, see that rise over there. Want you to put a grenade right in the middle of it.” I put a phosphorous grenade in there. He says, “Tell G Company to move out!” I was huggin’ the ground, stuff blowin’ up all around. “Damn it, Bingham, if you don’t tell G Company to move out, I’m gonna court-martial your ass.” I had to run like hell ’tween our fire and Kraut fire and I’m yellin’ “G Company, move out!” loud as I can. Eighty-eight came in with my name on it. I jumped behind a tree when it hit. Thought I was dead—couldn’t see or hear—started feeling my pulse. Dirt and tree limbs, crap all over me. Things cleared enough for me to brush the mess off and get up. Saw minefields. Looked over the rise and saw four German officers dead as hell. Their uniforms were clean and they had fresh haircuts. They were still smoking. Might have been my grenade that got ’em.
What did you think of your lieutenant?
I respected him. He’d gotten a battlefield commission.
During your military service did religion have any part in your life?
Growing up, I went to church but I really wasn’t that religious. In combat it’s hard to be religious. Guys around you getting killed, you’re tired, goddamn you’re tired. It’s one real son of a bitch. Guess I had a direct line to the Old Boy above. One time I said, “God, I’d sure like some relief.”
VD Rate in the American Army of Occupation in Germany
After the war I was in the Army of Occupation. I was a company clerk in an MP unit, had to deal with a lot of Germans. Took me some time to get over hating them! I still have residual hostility. Around ’em so much I picked up the language! At Kansas University I took three years of German. Still remember a good bit of it. Being a company clerk, I had access to records I shouldn’t have. The Army’s VD rate then was 30%. GI’s were screwing around with German girls and getting gonorrhea and syphilis. Some were in the 4th stage of syphilis. One hillbilly guy from West Virginia said, “All this for a piece of ass! People are nuts.”
The Army tried to warn us about the dangers of messing around. Coming out of high school, I was innocent as they come. The scuttlebutt was you could kiss a girl and she’d get pregnant. (Laughs.)
Hal Bingham at Pforzheim, Germany Harry Rice (l) and Hal Bingham (r)
at Bellancourt, France
Hal, thanks a lot for your story.
You know, every once in a while I still have those damn war dreams.
As I said goodbye, I was suddenly struck by his comment about war dreams. It reminded me of my father's shell
shock, reactions of which occurred long after his war experiences.
* 88: German cannon, Luger: German pistol, 45: American pistol
Hal Bingham's military decorations: Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, European Theatre Ribbon, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal.
Hal is seeking a publisher for the second edition of his book Son of Bitche developed by Walsworth Print Group, Marceline, Missouri. The book contains important details and insights about the action of the U.S. Army's 100th Division at Bitche, France, during World War II. Hal can be reached by regular mail: 5000 SW 25th Blvd. #2104 Gainesville, FL 32608.
Air Force Physician and Korean War-Era Veteran
I left the Army as a PFC and joined the Army Reserve. Toward the end of my medical training, I switched to the Air Force. I served in the Air Force from 1954 to 1956, which makes me a Korean War-era veteran. My medical residency was paid for by the GI Bill. After graduating from the University of Kansas Medical School, I was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Air Force and sent to Madigan Army Hospital in Fort Lewis, Washington. I was married by then. We got an invitation to a base party. It was from the General of the Hospital. Mary Ann didn’t want to go, but she knew we had to. It was the General’s invitation, like an order—you go. At Madigan I was put in charge of the female ward. A lot of dependants were there. Every third one had gonorrhea. That was higher than the venereal disease rate for GI’s in the Army of Occupation in Germany.
From Fort Lewis I was transferred to Dow Air Force Base in Maine. Soon after I arrived, the base CO called me in. He’d been looking at my record, saw where I’d drilled infantry troops. He said, “I want you to get all the doctors together and put them through close-order drills. They need some infantry exercise.” (Laughs) So I did. The doctors knew it wasn’t my decision; it was the CO’s.
Dow Air Force Base was under SAC [Strategic Air Command]. It was colder ’n hell, made refueling tankers a tough job. There were times when I thought if the Russians attacked we’d be in sad shape. Morale in the Air Force was OK, but it was nothing like Army Infantry. In the infantry, by God, they tell you what to do and you damn well do it. The Air Force was more laid back, less regimented. They made me a flight surgeon. I knew pretty soon I wasn't gonna like that much. I made damn sure all those enlisted guys saluted me. (Laughs.)
What were your duties as flight surgeon?
I dealt with pilot problems. I’d ground pilots for things like respiratory infections. They didn’t like it because grounding affected their flight status. I grounded about five or six pilots while I was there. I did a lot of tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies. I didn’t kill anybody, thank God. (Laughs) This work gave me the impetus to go into advanced surgery. The Air Force got me in the right direction.
Timothy (Tim) Blackford was born in West Palm Beach, FL, attended Lake Worth High School, and graduated from Bell High School in Gilchrist County, FL. Right after high school he joined the Marines in 1999 and completed his service in 2003. He then worked with his father in construction at Burns Brothers, Inc., supervising contracted jobs. In 2008 he became a Marine again and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and his wife Maria married in late 2011. After completing military service in 2012 with the rank of Corporal (E-4), he entered Santa Fe State College in Gainesville, FL as a student in Criminology. Besides his studies at Santa Fe, Tim is President of the college's Veterans Collegiate Society. His military decorations include the Overseas Service Ribbon with Silver Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Star, Combat Action Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Navy Unit Citation, Humanitarian Medal, Expert Marksman (Rifle, 6 times), Pistol Sharpshooter Medal, Korean National Defense Medal.
I first enlisted in the Marines in 1999. I served 3/3/3 in Lima Company [3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 3rd Division]. Before 9/11 I was mainly stateside and we had deployments to Japan, Okinawa and other Asian places to train in jungle warfare. After 9/11 hit, I was trained in jungle warfare and night fighting. We were being trained pretty much like a Vietnam Marine had been trained. It was done by an old Korean guy, 70 or 80 years old, who had invented a special kind of night fighting. I don't recall his name. He taught us hand-to-hand fighting with knives, mid-size swords, sticks, things like that. I really enjoyed that training. When the Iraq war started, we were told that it wasn't going to last more than a year. They said we probably wouldn't be deployed to Iraq. I was very disappointed. I was infantry; I'd been trained to fight and that's what I wanted to do, but it didn't look like I was going to be able to that, so I got out in 2003 and went to work with my Dad in construction.
In 2008 the economy was crashing and my company work was in decline. I looked for other employment, but the job situation was pretty uncertain. I missed the camaraderie and discipline of the Marine Corps, the order. It was wartime and patriotism was a big part of my decision to go back. I was still infantry. After training stateside I went TAD [Temporary Duty] with the 6th Regiment in Iraq. I spent 9 months in Iraq as a weapons custodian. My job was checking weapons in and out and doing maintenance on M-16s, mortars, machine guns, and all the regiment's weapons. My time in Iraq was pretty boring. Most of the time I was in a concrete building just doing custodian work.
Did you come under fire in Iraq?
We were bombed several times with rockets, mortared several times. A few times I was in convoy, and the enemy took pot shots at us--nothing really major in Iraq--the war was winding down. We were one of the last Marine units there. Compared to Afghanistan, Iraq was a vacation. I was in Afghanistan from March to October, 2011. We operated mostly in the Now Zad Valley area. The terrain looked almost identical to the terrain in Iraq. Foot patrol was my main mission in Afghanistan. We'd go through villages looking for insurgents. When you're on foot patrol, you stop and talk to villagers. We had an Afghan translator with us. Several Afghan translators were assigned to our FOB [Forward Operating Base]. We had one that volunteered for almost every patrol (I can't pronounce his name anymore); he took the same risks we did; he didn't even carry a weapon. He was all about helping us get out there and secure the area.
What was your most dangerous situation in Afghanistan?
My first foot patrol was definitely the most hair-raising. It was the first time on foot I'd really been shot at. We had already taken over 18 clicks [kilometers] of enemy territory and had just moved into "Salaam Bazaar." We called it that because it had an old bazaar that was no longer functional, like an abandoned strip mall. We set up for our patrol duties at a FOB then scattered out to small villages in the desert. On my first patrol we were out for about six hours. We actually were on our way back about four or five hundred meters from our patrol base. We were crossing from one building over a poppy field toward another structure. We had two fire teams and the first team made it to the structure. My fire team made it almost three-quarters of the way through that danger area when we started getting sporadic fire from AK [AK-47's]--a very distinct sound. You could tell it was a good three to 400 meters away. We hit the ground but there was no cover because we were in the middle of a field in Afghanistan. (Chuckles)
Any danger of mines in that field? We hadn't cleared any mines in our area. There could have been mines, but poppies had just been harvested, so most likely there weren't any mines. They had these 8 by 8 squares which is where they do their irrigation. Around each square there is a 6 to 8 inch berm. When we heard the AK, I remember dropping down and crawling behind one of the berms to determine where the fire was coming from. I was the DM [Designated Marksman] of my platoon, the sharpshooter; my job was to lay down fire on a target. I got with my squad leader and we saw fire coming at us from an area with kids in the doorways. It looked like the fire was coming from behind the kids, so I had no targets to encounter because the kids were in between.
Designated Marksman Tim Blackford during a lull in operations, Afghanistan 2011
You think the kids were put there as shields?
Oh definitely! We didn't have any targets, so the only thing to do was jump up and start running toward the structure. I was running and there was dirt kicking up around my feet. I didn't realize what it was till I got back to base and starting thinking about what we went through. Then I realized what was hitting close to me was rounds. I could've put a foot right or left and I wouldn't be here today. Fortunately we didn't have any casualties in that engagement. Our platoon had a squad on the other side parallel to where we were taking fire; they saw insurgents get on a motorcycle and take off. They'd dropped their AK's so they couldn't be engaged.
What was your casualty rate?
We were extremely lucky. Our platoon didn't lose any. Our company lost two in the seven months we were in Afghanistan. Other units lost many, many more. We were extremely lucky considering the number of vics [vehicles] hit by IED's [Improvised Explosive Devices]. We lost 72 vehicles to IED's. Luckily we got the new MATV's [Military All-Terrain Vehicles]. They were like Humvees on steroids. (Laughs) This vehicle had a V shape under it with one to two inches of steel that deflected explosives off to the side. In Iraq we didn't have this kind of heavy armor; that's why we lost so many personnel and vics in Iraq. An MATV can fit five guys including the turret gunner. The AMRAP [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected] vehicle can fit 7 to 10 personnel. Otherwise it was the same, same armor as the MATV. I was mostly in the MATV as the turret gunner.
What did you shoot at?
Whatever shot at us! (Laughs) Usually when we were in vics they were smart enough not to engage us. The way we operated in Afghanistan (there were 3 squads in a platoon), and each week each squad had a different duty and we rotated every week. One week we'd be on foot patrol; the next week on guard duty guarding the post; the third week we'd be part of the Quick Reaction Force [QRF] mounted in vics and were very rarely shot at. Foot patrol's the hardest. You're constantly out patrolling, no rest, no down time.
One time I remember being in a vic and taking fire when we were called out to defend a convoy that was receiving heavy contact. They were on the way to re-supply our FOB. The convoy was a pretty good distance, about 15 clicks out. It was pretty slow for us going in a vic at 25 to 30 miles an hour in the desert. The convoy had called in the Cobras. We set up a perimeter in front of the convoy while they were getting their stuff together. We watched the Cobras coming in dropping hellfire missles, so we had a little show there. While we waited on the convoy to get going, we started receiving fire. I remember it was getting dark and I got an idea. I pulled out my DM rifle. It has a scope and a night-vision sight attached to it. The vic behind me said they were hearing rounds ricocheting off them. With my night vision sight, I started seeing where the rounds were coming from and told them where to orientate their fire. The enemy fire was coming from a small compound three to 400 meters out. So I walked our guys through where to fire their M240,762 [machine gun, 7.62mm ammunition]. The enemy stopped firing at us. I don't know whether we killed them, or they got a lot of lead pouring in on them and decided to stop firing. Our convoy got out safely; no one was killed or injured on that mission.
What was the worst thing you saw?
The worst thing I saw was in the Now Zad area when we were QRF on call. On QRF you usually have some down time to relax a little bit, watch a movie, take a shower, stuff like that.
Tim Blackford during down time, Afghanistan 2011
But this particular time Staff Sgt. Wilson, my platoon sergeant, came in and said, "Hey, we need guys NOW." We're thinking, one of our guys got hit. We get on our boots, lace 'em real quick, don't even blouse 'em, and run out there and grab some gurneys. When we get to the main gate, there's this Afghan family of civilians; they'd run over an IED. The mother and father had minor injuries; one of the three boys was dead, another one didn't look like he was gonna make it--an eyeball was hanging out of his head; the third boy had shrapnel wounds and I'm pretty sure he would've lived with minor stitches. Seeing these young kids, one dead, another with his eyeball hanging out--he was about 8 or 9 years old and probably not gonna live--all that was definitely the worst, the worst thing I saw. You expect to see your own guys wounded and killed. You expect to see insurgents blown up and dead. But you are never spiritually prepared to see a kid torn up in war. That IED was put out by the insurgents, but they didn't own up to it. They didn't tell the civilian population, stay away from here. In Now Zad we had pretty good rapport with the civilian population to where if someone had planted an IED it would've been reported to us.
What's your opinion of the fighting abilities of your enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Personally, this comes from a traditional type person believing in honor in combat: the Iraqis and Afghanis understand they're up against a world power, well trained, the biggest military in the world. They're tough and they're quite efficient in guerilla tactics: hit and run, booby traps, IED, hiding behind civilians, blending into the population. They know the area, and we're in their backyard.
Sounds like Vietnam all over again.
Oh yeah, oh yeah! It's very, very close to Vietnam. You're in their backyard. One minute you're here in a firefight and next it stops and you're pushed to find them and they drop the weapons and blend into the population. They're in the same dress as the civilians; there's no uniform.
Were the Iraqis more effective as enemies or were the Afghans better?
By the time I was in Iraq the war was winding down and it was just pot shots. They'd fire two or three rounds at us, drop a weapon and walk away. Their tactics were the same as the Afghans'. I think the Afghans were more trained. Not only are they getting the local Afghanis but getting a lot of influx from Pakistan. The Pakistanis were actually more intense fighting than the Afghans.
Did you capture any Pakistanis?
The few we actually captured we didn't hold them too long. We had a little building we put 'em in, and our guys would go in there and question 'em and try to find out any immediate intelligence about possible IED sites, possible weapons stashes, things that would endanger us, things that we could really use.
How many POW's overall did you capture? Roughly about 10 in our own company. There could have been more. They'd be captured, interrogated for a couple of hours, bag-tagged, and shipped out.
Where were they shipped to? I really can't say. Most of the guys we captured were not top-line, high-list people; they were mostly grunts. I doubt if they ended up in Guantanamo. They were probably shipped out to some jail in Afghanistan somewhere or some military prison in Afghanistan.
You said you had pretty good relations with the civilians in the Now Zad Valley. What about relations with those in Salaam Bazaar?
That area, not so well. Now Zad was more a village area, three villages within a mile of each other. We did foot patrols constantly in Now Zad. At Salaam Bazaar we'd just taken over; we'd pushed out the enemy and within 24 hours we made it a make-shift patrol base. It was open hostile country around there.
Did you have to open up any houses and go in?
I never did. We were strictly told that unless you are 100 percent sure, not to go in a house or compound because at that point there were pressure plates in doorways and as soon as you stepped in a doorway whoof, an IED'd go off. One of my buddies had a close call with an IED. One day it was 135 out, dry heat. As I tell everybody, if you want to know the difference between dry heat and wet heat, crank up your oven to 130 degrees, then climb inside and shut the door. That's dry heat. (Laughs) We'd been out there five or six hours and we'd stopped. I was on the radio, doing radio checks, and Corporal Fuchigami's team had secured around this compound that we'd stopped short of. Fuchigi was one of our squad members and team leader of Fire Team One. He went to look inside the compound, a building about 30 x 30. It was vacant, had no roof, probably bombed out. He stuck his head in to see if no one was in there and when he did, he stepped on the threshold and activated a pressure plate. He's the luckiest man alive at that point. The only thing that popped was the blasting cap; it did not engage the IED. There are so many different kinds of pressure plates. Anything can be a pressure plate. They can be really primitive, but they work. Radio signals can be used to activate IED's in a number of ways: cell phones, walky-talkies, cordless telephones. Then there are the old fashioned ones where a wire runs to the IED and a guy is sitting behind a hill and when someone walks by the IED, the guy behind the hill pushes a button, like the old push-down dynamite, like in a cartoon. They gave us classes on how they were made--it's insane.
Overall, what's your opinion of the Afghan war? Do you think it can be eventually won?
I joined the military to do a job, which I did. I think being there and interacting with the civilians we're doing a good job. But as far as the war in Afghanistan's concerned, I think it's an unwinnable war. There's always going to be insurgents. They're constantly pouring in from Pakistan. As soon as we pull out, they're going to take over. It's not like you're trying to knock out a dictator. You're not trying to take down some power to allow a better power to rise up. You're fighting an enemy that's not even a government of that country. You're making the lives of the locals a little bit better, but most locals are farmers. With us there, it doesn't really affect the farmers except they can grow wheat instead of being forced to grow poppies. But when the Taliban comes into an area where we've been, the locals don't know who to follow. Before we went to war in Afghanistan, only like 20, maybe 10 percent, of the world's heroin came from Afghanistan. Now that we're over there close to 80 percent, maybe more, of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan. What the Taliban do, they force the farmers to grow poppies so the insurgents can take the sap and turn it into heroin and sell it and get money for their weapons. What we were taught is the insurgents come and collect it at the end of the poppy harvest and it goes to Pakistan. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is easier to get it across than anywhere else. When Pakistan nationals come over to fight it's easier for insurgents to get the makings of heroin across the border. Pretty plant--the poppy is a beautiful plant!
How did all this drug trade and the constant stalemate affect your unit's morale?
Our morale was high. You're over there. You're not thinking about the war. You're not thinking about the drug trade. You're not thinking about politicians and all that stuff. You're thinking about your buddies. You're thinking about staying alive. When it's down time, you watch a movie or listen to music. You do what guys do when they're together. If you're there for a good reason, or if you're there for a bad reason, it doesn't matter anymore. If you want to come home alive, you don't care about that; you care about your buddies. Even if you don't like the guy, you care about him, and he cares about you. And that's all you care about. When we got home my best buddies came to my wedding, Corporal Buckley and Sgt. Neeper (I got used to calling guys by their last names). I talk to Neeper one or two times a week. My best man was Matthew Perez because I knew him from my first enlistment and we've known each other for 13 years.
Combat-ready Marines. Tim Blackford is in the standing row, hatless, third from right.
Have you had any PTSD?
Yes. Not very often anymore but during the first year and a half or two years after I came back, it happened a lot. The first time I truly realized I had some type of PTSD was at a military air show at a Marine air station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. I'd been to civilian air shows but never to a military one. I'm walking along with my wife looking at the attractions, the jets flying around, but I didn't know they were having a mock battle, a simulation battle. All of a sudden I hear this distinct sound of a 50 caliber, det-det-det-det, this methodical sound, and instantly I start spinning and I knew I had my rifle in my hand, I knew it. I spin around and take a knee and as soon as I take a knee position I'm about to call out a fire direction. I could feel my rifle, I could see the mountains, I could see the desert. I could hear that 50 caliber. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I stood back up and when I did, what got me, was these people sitting under the wing of an aircraft behind me and I heard them laughing. It took everything my wife had to keep me from walking over there and punching them out. I was embarrassed, I was tense, my hands were shaking. This one guy was there with his family; he may have thought I was joking or didn't understand what I was doing, but he was laughing at me and I was mad. That was my first true PTSD.
I have nightmares still, think I'm on patrol and just wake up and say, okay! Bad dreams are down to once a month now, but they used to happen weekly.
Do you take medication?
No. I went and saw a counselor at the VA. She did a pretty good job. She was an intern, but she left and got transferred into Georgia. She said that I'd been doing good, especially with my anger issues. I have horrible with road rage, people tail-gaiting me, pulling up on my butt at a stop light. I'd pull up, they'd pull up more, and they'd get right on the ass-end of my car and that really ticked me off. I've actually got out of my car several times and kicked or punched the side of their car. It scared my wife. She said, "You do that with a Marine Corps sticker on your car, and somebody's liable to pull a gun and shoot you." So I went over to the VA and got a counselor, and she showed me techniques how to deal with the anger.
What's the major one that helped you?
What's helped me the most is working here in the Veterans Office. Sandra Torres-Pintos was a Sergeant Major in the Marine Corps; she had a wonderful career. We work closely here in the office, and she's helped me a lot. Everybody that works in this office is a military veteran.
Sandra in the Veterans Collegiate Society Office, Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL
Do you do any meditation or praying?
No. I have no religious affiliation. My parents and grandparents are Christian--my mom died. My family's Christian, but they don't believe in going to church. As I said, the people in this office have helped. And my wife, too. My drinking--that's about nonexistent. Otherwise I'd probably have ended up divorced and eventually in jail. We eventually may have children, but I'm in school and my wife's working fulltime, so children aren't our focus now.
Would you say a little about the Veterans Collegiate Society that you're president of?
I started school here about a month after I got out of the military. I had to come through this office and get registered for veterans' benefits. I met Sandra and she offered me a position in the office to work in the Work Study Program. Then came an opening for Collegiate Veterans Senator. I attended all the meetings and stayed here till 7 at night, and if I was going to put in all those hours at least I'd like to be vice president. Eventually positions above me opened up and I became president. I've always been dedicated to veterans. As president, I may get the ball rolling, but what we get done here is everybody working together. I'm proudest of our Veterans Bridge Scholarship program--"bridge" means between leaving military service and entering college. I'm involved in rating scholarship applications.
Veterans Collegiate Society Staff at Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL l-r: John Gebhardt, Tim Blackford, Sandra Torres-Pintos, Donna Jackson
To get a scholarship award, a vet has to be honorably discharged, in school full time or at least three-quarter time, and have a financial need. Lt. General John Lemoyne has been a major advocate for veterans and has done a lot to promote our Bridge Program. During my time here, 27 scholarships have been awarded. Like I said, we always work as a team to help veterans.
Tim, many thanks for your story. It is informative and historically valuable. I also appreciate all the good things you and your staff are doing for veterans. Best of luck!
Joseph Bradham and Mary Lou married in 1958 in Lakeland, Florida, and have three children. One, Joseph Bradham Jr., 49, is now serving his third tour in Iraq as an Air Force Reserve Major working on various projects. In October 1958, Mary Lou became ill. Medical tests showed that she had a problem that would prevent her from having children. Encouraged by Bishop John Branscomb, Methodist Bishop for Florida and Cuba, the Bradhams planned to do missionary work in Cuba. “In early 1959, [Mary Lou] went to the doctor and happily learned that a miracle was in place. She was expecting our first child. After explaining our plans of going to Cuba to the doctor, he strongly advised her against going because of the conditions there. After a considerable amount of thought and prayer, we decided that it would be best if I went alone and Mary Lou would stay in Lakeland to be under her doctor’s care. This also enabled her to continue working at her new job.”
Joe’s comments above come from a manuscript he wrote in the 60’s that eventually became Cuba: My Personal Reflections, a concise, colorful 19-page booklet (unpublished) put together by Mary Lou. Its cover shows the Coat of Arms of Cuba. Inside are pictures of Joe and Mary Lou as newlyweds, Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro, the Methodist Church Plaque, a map of Cuba, a Batista soldier in the act of gunning down two men tied to posts, Joe with tied hands being interrogated by Castro, Castro’s soldiers tying and blindfolding a man, and Mary Lou holding infant Joseph Hampton Bradham, Jr. After giving a brief history of Cuba, Joe writes at length about his experiences in Cuba from late April to late August 1959, including his sufferings at the hands of Castro and Batista forces. For example:
Persecuted by Castro and Batista
“After flying into Havana, I was met by Mr. Al Lopez with his wife and three children…They were all very nice and welcomed me with open arms. Mr. Lopez explained how he had been contacted by Bishop Branscomb from Florida and how grateful he was that I was willing to come to Cuba and help the people. After listening to Mr. and Mrs. Lopez tell about the tortures and killings and how devastating the conditions were all over Cuba, I felt that maybe I should go back home. But, after hearing all those terrible stories, it began to hit deep into my heart and soul…How could I say, “no”?....
“Mr. and Mrs. Lopez…were very active in the community, especially in their Methodist Church. He was an Electrical Engineer and many of his duties dealt with building businesses and helping them to grow. These were mostly with Batista’s projects and American companies. The Lopezes were among the rich and influential citizens of Cuba….They provided me with a vehicle and often went with me to help families in stressful situations throughout the area….
“I worked with families and especially children, who had lost their parents and family members due to torturing and killings going on all over Cuba. I worked mostly in and around Camaguey…Occasionally I went to Cienfuegos….Basically, I found the same terrible conditions in Cienfuegos as I had in Camaguey. Quite often I would find both adults and children lying dead in ditches and fields. What really hit me the hardest was finding people in wooded areas hanging by their feet from tree limbs…Just seeing them that way brought tears to my eyes. Quite often, I would find children hiding in a ditch or behind a building. I tried hard to round up some food and water for them. The next chore was to find some home that appeared safe and try to get them situated inside. It often took a lot of time and patience, but it was worth every minute to help provide safety for them….Even though there was the constant strife of torturing and killing going on everywhere, I was able to dodge a lot of it and survive. God was really on my side….
“Around the second week of July 1959, Castro and a small group of his men were making a full-force drive from East to West and came upon Camaguey.…Castro and his men captured the Lopez family, and since I was staying with them at the time, I was included with them. In order to force us to reveal that we were supposedly working with Batista, they dragged us outside in the front yard by some trees. They tied us up with wire and bound our hands behind our backs. As we were being questioned, the Lopez family said over and over that they were simply working to help the Cuban people and were strong, active church supporters. I stated that I was also there primarily to assist anyone who needed my help. Castro didn’t seem to believe us and would keep coming back probing us with questions. In his mind, he felt that we were Batista supporters. When we stuck to the truth, he became very frustrated with us. He then had his troops begin to torture us three adults by punching, kicking and slapping us until we almost passed out. That went on for two days. During that time, two of Castro’s men took Mrs. Lopez into the house and kept her there for several hours. We could hear her screaming. When they brought her back out, she was piteously slumped over. They turned to Mr. Lopez and asked if he wanted to see more of this go on with the rest of us. Mr. Lopez stated that he was not pleased with what they were doing, but stuck to his reply of only trying to do good for others. When they came to me, I, too, stuck to my reply.
"During interrogations conducted by both Fidel Castro and Batista's men, pictures were taken and distributed throughout the area to show people what would happen to them if they didn't join each respective side. After I left Cuba in 1959, I remained in contact with some families there until 1962 when Castro forbid Cubans to have any contact with Americans. Before the ban on American contact, one family sent me pictures and information which included this picture taken while I was being questioned by Castro. The family thought it strange propaganda that I was referred to as a farmer who had been killed right after the questioning.
Joe Bradham (far left, hands tied behind his back) interrogated by Castro (center, head tilted) and his henchmen
“Having no luck getting a confession from us, the men began torturing the children to force us to say what they wanted to hear. We still refused to change our responses. Three of the men then took the 12-year-old girl with her hands bound behind her and sat her in front of us. They took a metal file, which is normally used to file metal objects, put it into her mouth and pressed her mouth closed. They began to pull the file in and out which caused extreme pain for the poor suffering girl. They felt that her screaming would make us change our responses. After several hours of torture, the little girl died.
“Castro was not at all pleased that he wasn’t able to break us down so he gave orders to continue the torture. Another day was spent torturing all of us and finally, Mr. and Mrs. Lopez were stabbed to death. That really threw me into turmoil because I expected that I would be killed, next. Castro was not comfortable with the power that Americans had in Cuba and since I was an American, he was very suspicious of me.
”On the fourth day, Castro and most of his men left, taking the two [Lopez] boys with them. Four men stayed with me for another day. They kept interrogating me….I kept to my story of trying to help people in need but they just laughed and taunted me….That evening they went inside and left me alone outside. Since my hands were tied behind me, I began scraping the wire against the rough bark of the tree. Soon, I was able to break the wire, untie myself, and get loose….I was quite stiff but after a little stretching, I was able to move slowly. It felt really good to escape from that yard and to be free.
“After escaping, I walked down the road until I had the good fortune to find a bike. I jumped on it and rode as fast as I could pedal. I traveled mostly by night. During the day, I would try to keep myself safe in wooded areas and unoccupied buildings. Getting food and water was sometimes difficult, but I did okay. I even found some people with whom I had previously worked. They helped feed me and provided me with a place to rest and get cleaned up.
“It took me about three or four days to arrive in Cienfuegos…. I was captured by Batista’s men. They immediately started questioning me….I tried to explain why I came to Cuba and that I would never harm anyone. They laughed and said that something didn’t seem right to them. They began to slap and punch me in order to get me to tell them the real reason I was there. They felt I was there to help Castro take control from Batista. Even though Batista had left Cuba for his safety, his followers were determined to win back his power from Castro….After a bit of conversation among themselves, they decided to take me down the road and put me in a chicken coop where they could keep an eye on me….The wire chicken coop…was just like the kind my mother had for her chickens when I was growing up on a farm in Georgia. I remembered how fragile the wire was and how easily it would break.
“By day, the men pressured me with continuous interrogation but at night, I was pretty much left alone. Cautiously, I started to move a strand of chicken wire back and forth until it broke. I continued this over and over leaving some strands in place which helped the entire area to appear untouched. I did this in the rear where they didn’t notice it being broken. Then one night, while the guards were asleep, I finished breaking the wire sections that remained and slipped out. I was able to quietly sneak away. Somehow, I managed to find another bike but at this point I was exhausted, so I quickly found a hiding place to rest for a few hours. I was able to get some needed water but no food.
“As I was leaving Cienfuegos, I located a couple of families that I had visited a few weeks earlier….Feeling badly about what I had gone through, they helped me to get cleaned up and provided me with some good food to eat. They wanted me to stay with them a bit longer, but I explained how I was very worried about my wife and our unborn baby….They understood how I felt and offered to help me any way they could. They even offered to take me by car to the Havana Airport….I couldn’t allow them to risk their lives….I thanked them and left on the bike for Havana.
“As I was riding along, I could hear shots and bomb blasts all around. That made me even more nervous, but I felt I must continue the best way I could to get home to my sweetie and our future little sweetie. As I neared Havana,…I began to think how blessed Mary Lou and I were that we made the decision for her to stay home and for me to come to Cuba alone. The good Lord sure helped us to make the right decision….
“After a few nights of riding in the darkness, I arrived at Marianao just East of Havana…I was captured again by Castro’s men….Castro was not with them….Once again, I tried to explain that I was there to help anyone in need. They didn’t believe my explanation….Hearing them talk about contacting their “boss” made me very nervous….Finally, they took me to an abandoned building not too far from the Havana Airport where they locked me in a closet.
“After a few days in the closet, I desperately tried to convince them that I was hungry and thirsty. They did get me some food and water and let me go to the bathroom….The closet door had a drop latch outside that was keeping it closed. The door also had some small slats about an inch wide. I groped around inside the closet and found a wire clothes hangar underneath a low shelf. Then one night, I was left alone after I heard the guards complaining about being hungry. Normally, when they went to eat, all four or five of them would leave together and be gone for over an hour. While alone, I was able to stick the wire outside one of the slats and release the latch. For the third time, I got away!
“….Thinking about Mary Lou and wanting to get home kept me going. Giving up was not ever on my mind. Remembering how tough times were for me growing up on a farm in Georgia during World War II, and trying to overcome my personal handicap of deafness at that time, seemed to inspire me to keep going as long and as strong as I could….
“I was able to find an abandoned building right near the airport….My deepest wish and desire at this point was to get on the first plane headed for Miami….My plan was to try to get aboard without being seen. A couple of hours before the plane was due to leave, a group of men came out and began shooting at the plane until it blew up. The terror didn’t slow down at all. The next morning, a small ten passenger plane due for Miami was shot down during take-off, killing all aboard….I kept looking and listening from my hiding place, slipping in and out to find something to eat and drink. Then, one afternoon, I overheard someone saying that a four engine Constellation plane sitting on the flight line would be leaving for Miami the next day….During the night, when everything had closed down, I slipped out and boarded the plane. I searched around inside looking for a safe place to hide until the plane took off. I finally found a space in the cabinet under the sink in the plane’s small bathroom. At that time, I only weighed about 135 pounds, so I was able to fit snugly in there.
“Around noon, I heard people begin to board the plane and the engines started up. My heart began to flutter. I was on my way home to Mary Lou. The plane began to taxi, and as it started to take off, shots were heard. The plane took continuous sprays of bullets but it soared upward to safety…I was getting very stiff and tired, so I decided to take a chance and come out of hiding. The people on board were mostly Americans so I fit in okay. In about an hour, we landed safely at Miami Airport….[A]fter stepping off the plane, my disheveled appearance didn’t stop Mary Lou from running over and giving me an extremely welcome hug and kiss. It sure did feel good….Mary Lou and her friend Jean, not knowing when I would be coming home, had been going to the airport every day for a month to meet every incoming plane from Cuba. We stayed in Miami for a few days with our dear friends, Jean and Jesse. We also were able to visit the Methodist Church that I had attended for three years while I lived in Miami before going away to college….”
In the last three pages of the booklet, Joe tells about his life before and after his time in Cuba and about Castro’s take-over of Cuba and reactions of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations to the Castro regime. Before going to Cuba, Joe had finished three years of a Methodist Church-sponsored scholarship to Florida Southern College in Lakeland where he met Mary Lou. But after returning from Cuba, he couldn’t afford to finish college because of mounting expenses and a new baby on the way. He looked into joining the Air Force, aced their recruiting test, and was impressed with their benefits. “The Air Force would pay for the birth of our first child and offer tuition assistance so I could finish my college degree. At the end of September 1959, I entered the Air Force and was sent to San Antonio, Texas for basic training. Joining the Air Force was the best decision we made.”
In 1982 Joe retired from the Air Force with the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. From June 1967 to June 1968 he was in Vietnam during some of the war’s heaviest fighting. I met with Joe twice at his Oak Hammock home and he gave me the following account:
I served as a communications specialist. My main post was Tan Son Nhut Air Base. My job required me to go to different places in country and set up telephone communications. I worked with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Normally on these operations we had a couple of jeeps and a truck. Our small group included a South Vietnamese captain, Captian Cuong. We got to be good friends and he invited me to meet his family during the Tet holiday. I went to Saigon on January 30, 1968. Around midnight the place lit up. The VC sent in 122 millimeter rockets in threes. This went on from midnight to three or four in the morning. The VC had posted themselves at a stadium near our air base. They melted into the population. Man, they got really active in Saigon. I was right in the middle of their Tet Offensive. Didin't get back to base till the next day! I had to walk back because I'd lost my jeep. The colonel called me in and I briefed him, and he sent me out on another mission.
Joe Bradham and Captain Cuong
At the time it was the rainy season and the mosquitoes were terrible. Our planes came over and started spraying. We thought they were spraying mosquitoes. Turned out they were spraying Agent Orange! I’ve broken out in rashes ever since, like this place [Joe pulls down his shirt and shows a glaring reddish-brown splotch almost the size of a quarter on his upper chest]. I still break out. The VA’s been treating me. A nurse practitioner sent me to a VA dermatologist, Dr. Nelson. He froze off my skin rash. I’ve been putting on lotion for about 20 years.
I was constantly involved in dangerous situations. I usually went to small posts. North of Saigon I had to go across Monkey Mountain. Monkeys are a favorite food of the Vietnamese. There were many VC in these areas. We’d be driving along and see babies rigged up. It was the VC’s way of trying to get us to stop and ambush us.
In December ’67 Bob Hope came to Bien Hoa, a town about 30 miles north of Saigon. Three of us were driving back after seeing Bob Hope. Normally I rode in the back of the jeep. I was tired and this man I was with asked if I wanted to sit in the front and stretch out. So we switched places. There was very heavy traffic. Suddenly I heard shots; they were coming from the woods, about 100 yards away. Suddenly there’s blood all over us. The guy sitting in back took a bullet in the head.
The VC liked to hit us at night. One time early in the morning I was in the top bunk of our barracks, 4th one down. My bed springs were loose; the mattress was up around me. A rocket hit the end of the barracks. It blew me out of the bunk. What saved me was the mattress; it caught shrapnel. This piece would've gone right in me. It's about 1½ square inches, from a 122 mm rocket that killed four of my buddies.
After losing our barracks, we went to the chapel on base for a place to sleep. They were having a service in there. There was a building about 50 feet from the chapel. Since it was time for bed, we took our mattresses and spread them out on the floor of this building. About 1:30 in the morning in came the rockets. One blew up the chapel.
The VC used all kinds of tricks to try to kill us. We had a shower next to our barracks. The shower was like an outhouse we had on the farm in Georgia. This guy asked if he could go ahead of me and shower. I said okay. I heard a scream and a crash. One of the Vietnamese workers had wired the shower. When the man turned it on, he was electrocuted. VC women posing as workers and friends would come on base with grenades in their vaginas. They’d put grenades in our beds. A man’s weight on the bed pulled the pin and the grenade exploded. This is a piece of VC Shrapnel.
When we were studying 20th century culture in my college humanities class, students who were Nam vets would sometimes tell their experiences. One student told about VC women working as prostitutes with razor blades in their vaginas and luring GIs. You ever hear that?
Mary Lou: How did the women keep from getting cut?
I don’t know, but I heard that went on.
I’ll never forget the reactions of some of my students when the vet told about the razor blade tactic. One woman ran out of the room and got sick. It worried me that some reports from veterans were getting too graphic. The 20th century with all its wars and violence was not a pretty time. We have a duty to learn about these things and work for peace. As an educator, you take risks that way.
I remember coming through the gate one time and seeing this Vietnamese guy talking to the guard. Usually South Vietnamese soldiers wore shiny boots, but this man had sandals that looked pretty worn. I got suspicious. I called the guard gate and asked them to check this guy out. They found 6 grenades taped on him.
The VC liked to hide in the tall grass around the base and pitch grenades at us. I suggested to the colonel that we burn all this grass. He said, “Go ahead.” We set fires all the way around and found 7 dead VC. Some had grenades and blew up.
I’m talking about some things I haven’t talked about in years.
Does it help you to talk about it?
Yes, somewhat! I still have nightmares about some of the trauma I went through. My son’s on his 3rd tour in Iraq. Knowing the danger he’s in doesn’t help my mental situation. I’ve filled out all kinds of VA forms. All they tell me is, “You’re okay. You’re doing fine.” But I still have problems.
Are you religious?
I feel I’m a religious man. I used to be a Methodist and Mary Lou’s always been Catholic. We’re both Catholic now. We go to mass at the VA chapel on Sunday afternoons. I’m not a drinker or a smoker. Guys would try to get me to drink with them. I never cared about drinking or smoking. I’d go along with them and usually have a 7-Up. I sometimes wonder how I’m still here after all I’ve been through. I credit my survival my whole life to the good Lord.
Mary Lou: And to his common sense.
Earlier you said something about a service decoration.
Yes. I got a Joint Service Commendation. The Air Force sent news of it and my picture to my hometown newspaper in Glennville, Georgia. My parents didn’t even know I was in Vietnam. I was sort of hoping to get in there and out so as not to worry them, but they found out when the news hit the Glennville paper. Boy, I sure heard from them then!
Mary Lou, what were you doing while Joe was in Nam?
Raising kids! I was living at Keesler Air Force Base. Joe and I wrote regularly. I stayed busy with the kids and I was teaching English at a high school in Biloxi.
Joe, you mentioned overcoming deafness. Would you tell a little about that?
I was three years old when it happened. My father kept an unloaded shotgun in the closet, but this time he unknowingly left a shell in it. I got curious and went to the closet and played around with the gun. It went off, blew a hole in the ceiling. I was deaf until I was 12. I had a hard time in school, but teachers helped me after school. Kids would taunt me and make fun of me. There weren’t any hearing or speech therapists where I lived. Just got by the best I could! When I was 12, I began to hear again. I guess growing up and my changing body enabled me to hear again.
Here are some things I brought home from Vietnam. These two swords and scabbards Captain Cuong made for me.
His wife made this plaque for Mary Lou. It’s dark brown, almost maroon, hard wood. The metal parts are glued on. The title is on a strip of gold metal. Beneath it are American and South Vietnamese flags crossed to show our alliance then. The tribute to Mary Lou is on a gold metal plate; under it is my joint service decoration from the Defense Communications Agency of Southeast Asia Mainland. It shows 13 stars around a gold eagle; the eagle stands on orange lightning flashes that are over a dark blue globe, symbol of the world.
WITH ALL MY LOVE
In recognition of Outstanding Performance Awarded to MARY LOU BRADHAM for her perseverance and devotion to duty in maintaining home and family during her husband’s tour of duty in Vietnam, June 1967 – June 1968, presented by her loving and grateful husband Joseph Bradham.
Sept. 17 and Nov. 11, 2009 Rufus Broadaway is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and former Professor of Surgery at the University of Miami. On these dates at Oak Hammock Rufus talked about his experiences in World War II. In the first talk, he focused mainly on Market Garden, a British-American military operation (mostly airborne) that failed to achieve its major objective of cutting a path into Germany. Dick Martin, a retired Army chaplain who saw action in Vietnam, interspersed clips from the film A Bridge Too Far with Rufus’ account. In the second talk, part of a Veterans Day celebration at Oak Hammock and videotaped by Martin earlier (July 14), Rufus gave an overview of his military career and included some of the highlights of his civilian life.
From National Guardsman to Parachute Infantryman The Bloody Battle of La Fiere Causeway
I went on active duty in 1940 as a member of the 31st Infantry Division, Mississippi National Guard. Our first duty station was Camp Blanding near Jacksonville. When Pearl Harbor was hit, I was a PFC. I didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was, but I soon found out. We were sent to guard the beaches of the Florida Coast. I went through officer school and airborne training at Ft. Benning and became a second lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division. When I told my mother I was a paratrooper, she demanded that I get out of that. I told her I couldn’t get out. They’d put me in jail or shoot me. (Chuckles.) On July 13, 1942, Marian and I were married. Yesterday was our 67th wedding anniversary and we’re still very much in love.
My first European duty station was in Northern Ireland. After that we were sent to England. We didn’t know where we were going. On June 5 we loaded into the plane, each of us carrying 100 pounds of equipment. We sat in there for hours before General Eisenhower cancelled the mission. The next day we finally took off. On the way the Germans started shooting at us. The pilot told me, “Lieutenant, we’ve been hit. I don’t know where I am, but I advise you to get out.” We were delighted to get out. I parachuted into Normandy in the early hours of D-Day. We jumped at about 300 feet. Some have called it the lowest jump ever made. I landed in an apple tree and couldn’t remember the password. I lost my signal clicker, almost got shot by my platoon sergeant.
We landed about an hour and a half from Utah Beach. Our mission was to take the La Fiere Causeway. The Germans had dammed the river. A lot of our troops carrying all that equipment drowned. La Fiere had to be taken because our troops from Utah Beach had to get through. The battle went back and forth. It was very bloody. Dead and dying all over the place! Some of our men were so scared they hid under anything they could find. We had to get them out with “Come on soldier, let’s get going now!” Some authorities have called La Fiere the bloodiest small unit battle of World War II. After the Causeway was taken, I was with a group that went down a side road. Up to this point all this action had been very exciting to me. It felt like cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers. Down that side road we saw a German mortar emplacement. They threw grenades at us; we threw grenades at them. A young lieutenant and I took cover. We heard Germans screaming. We stuck our heads up to see what we’d hit. The lieutenant fell back in my arms. He’d been hit right here (Points to his forehead.), right through the crossbar of his helmet. At that point the war got very serious for me. That could’ve been me the sniper hit. After D-Day the 82nd was sent back to England. General James Gavin became Commander of the 82nd and selected me as his Aide-de-Camp. Being with General Gavin was one of the high points of my life. He was a kind, wonderful man. The 82nd made plans to clear ways for the advance of General Patton’s Third Army. Before we could begin to implement each plan, Patton had already gone through. (Chuckles.)
1st Lt. Broadaway sitting high in the jeep behind Brigadier General James M. Gavin after their jump into Holland.
"I was with him when he made Major General," Rufus said.
Operation Market Garden and the Bridge Too Far
On September 17, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden commanded by British General Bernard Montgomery. It took place in Holland. We and the British dropped 64 miles behind enemy lines. We tried to put in every plane the biggest sergeant with the biggest boot we could find. That boot was for laggard backsides. A Dutch captain jumped with us. His name’s hard to pronounce and I won’t attempt to spell it [Arie Dirk Bestebreurtje]. His job was to contact the Dutch underground and help disrupt the Germans. He later came to the U.S. and became a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina. He’d been an Olympic ice skater. Unfortunately, he was skating one day and fell through the ice and died.
Our objective was to take nine important bridges in Holland. We were repulsed time and again at Nijmegen. Montgomery was confident he could take Arnhem. It was the last bridge in Holland before Germany. The plan was to take it and move into the Ruhr area of Germany. Montgomery said we would be home for Christmas, but the British were being cut to pieces. Montgomery wouldn’t give the 82nd the order to go into Arnhem.
It was decided that elements of our 504th Regiment and 307th Engineers would make a crossing over the Waal River. We got boats from the British. They had plywood bottoms and canvas sides. I told General Gavin that I wanted to go across with the men. He said, “No, you’re going to Headquarters and hold the hand of the Chief of Staff. He’s nervous even on a good day.” Major Julian Cook led the river crossing. A protestant chaplain went with Cook. Cook was a devout Catholic and kept praying “Hail Mary full of grace, Hail Mary full grace” and the protestant chaplain was praying “Thy will be done, Thy will be done”; they kept praying like that all the way across. [Scenes of the crossing in A Bridge Too Far are shown, Robert Redford as Major Cook paddling and praying]. This film is pretty close to what actually happened. The British didn’t send any paddles. Our men really did use their rifle stocks as paddles. Casualties were high, but they succeeded in taking the Nijmegen highway and railroad bridges.
We never did get to Arnhem. British tanks were backed up. The British failed to blow Arnhem Bridge. Some of them just stopped and had tea. We took 8 of the 9 bridges, but the cost was very high. A lot of fine British airborne died. There were over 10,000 Allied casualties in this operation. Civilians were killed, too—I don’t know how many.
After Market Garden, I asked General Gavin if I could go back to a rifle company. He arranged it. After we got into Germany, we figured there was a pocket of German troops near Cologne. I was ordered to take a patrol of 18 to 20 men across the Rhine and find out what we were up against. We got across and ran into strong resistance. We shot our way out, but three of my men were killed. We were able to estimate enemy strength and get back to our lines. I was hit just below the left eye by a little bit of shell or rock or something. My eye clotted over for a little while, but the eye itself wasn’t hurt. That’s how I got the Purple Heart.
There was never any doubt about the American fighting man. We got very good at killing. But it seems to me we can find better ways to solve human problems than war.
When I got back home after the war, my first daughter was 15 months old. Marian and I lived for a time with her parents in the Boston area. I found out the government would pay for 48 months of education under the GI Bill. I finished undergraduate work at Tufts University and then was accepted into Harvard Medical School. I completed my schooling at the finest medical school in the world.
Other decorations awarded to Rufus:
Parachute Wings/2 stars (Normandy, Holland)
European Theatre Ribbons: Normandy, Holland, Battle of the Bulge, Rhine River Crossing
World War II Victory Ribbons: French, Dutch, Belgian: Fourragere
Military Order of Wilhelm (Dutch)
Presidential Unit Citation, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment