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Wwii Veteran Get Pow Medal Because Jessica New POW medal

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Posted 16 July 2005 - 07:04 AM

WWII veteran remembers day his plane was shot

By Leigh Jones
The Herald-Zeitung

Published July 16, 2005

New Braunfels resident Joseph Bradley celebrated freedom Friday — in a round about way.

On July 15, 1944, Bradley’s B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber was shot down over Romania and the 20-year-old American from Brownwood became a German prisoner of war.

The 81-year-old avid golfer can laugh about it now, but he was not too amused as he and his nine fellow crew members parachuted out of their flaming plane, dodging bullets from enemy soldiers on the ground.

“I had never parachuted before, nor have I since,? he said. “It’s amazing we all made it, but we were captured within 30 seconds.?

His capture was swift, but his stay was long-term — almost 12 months spent in two different Stalag Luft camps.

The involuntary incarceration gave him time to reflect on what he had gotten himself in to.

A crew of rookies heads to war

Bradley joined the Army Air Corps. in 1943, with the war well under way.

He trained as a tail gunner, one of four machine gun operators who manned the B-24.

“They put me with a crew of all rookies and sent us to New York to pick up a brand new plane,? he recalled. “Can you believe that??

The airmen flew the plane in stages to Italy, stopping in Florida, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Casa Blanca. Once at their makeshift base, rows of tents nestled in olive orchards, the crew was spread between groups with more experience.

Bradley flew his first mission, to Sophia, Bulgaria, on his fourth day in Italy.

“I made it back, but I watched another plane get hit,? he said. “The pilot and radio operator who flew to Italy with me were on that plane. I remember wondering what I had gotten myself into.?

As the days crawled by, Bradley counted off the missions one-by-one. He had to accomplish 50 before he could come home.

“I was counting them down, but we knew we would never make it,? he said.

He was right, but they got close.

The flight into Romania was the crew’s 48th mission.

They never saw the 25 millimeter shell that tore through the B-24’s underbelly, exploding in a shower of shrapnel.

“We managed to put out the fires in the hold, but the engines were going, so we had to jump,? he said.

Prisoner of war

Bradley and his crewmembers were taken to Budapest for interrogation. He admitted the questioning was tough but declined to go into detail.

“My wife always asks me about it, but why talk about those things,? he said.

From a box on a high shelf in his office, Bradley pulled out the original identification paperwork the Germans gave him before sending him to the camp. In a small black and white photo glued to the yellowed document, the young airman looked slightly defiant.

For seven months, Bradley stayed at Stalag Luft 4, near Belgard, before being transferred to Stalag Luft 1, near Barth, Germany.

His existence in the camp was not physically difficult — Germans prized even foreign flyers and did not make the men work — but, they were almost always hungry.

“We ate nearly anything we could find, even garbage,? he said.

At Christmas, the Red Cross was allowed to bring parcels into camp. The dried raisins, chocolate candy bar, pound of powered milk and two packs of cigarettes helped to bring a slight glimmer of holiday cheer.

“The guards treated us all right because many of them had relatives who were in POW camps in Texas,? Bradley recalled.

The men received regular updates on the war’s progress from other prisoners who joined the group almost daily, but they still were not prepared for liberation.

Set free

“One day we just woke up and all the guards were gone,? Bradley said. “A Russian soldier rode by on a horse and asked us if we were German or American. We told him we were American and he told us to tear down the fence. So, we did.?

While many of the men stayed in camp, waiting for the planes they were sure would come and get them, Bradley and another prisoner when exploring.

When they made it into Barth, they saw white flags hanging from all the windows.

The men procured a Mercedes Benz from another Russian, for one pack of cigarettes, and drove it around until it ran out of gas.

Two weeks later, the 8th Air Force came to fly them out of Germany. It took two days to get them all to France.

“I was allowed to wire my parents to tell them I was still alive,? he said.

He sailed home on a boat from Dieppe, France, and arrived in New York.

“It was nice to sail past the Statue of Liberty,? he admitted. “Shortly after that, we dropped the bomb on Japan and the war was finally over.?

A token of thanks

Displayed proudly on the wall of his office, Bradley’s Purple Heart serves as a reminder of his service to his country.

Three months ago, he received another medal, unexpectedly, to serve as a reminder of his time in captivity.

“Remember that young girl who was captured in Iraq last year,? he said. “Well, I didn’t know it, but the government created a POW medal for her. I got mine in the mail earlier this year.?

The new medal, created after Jessica Lynch’s highly publicized 10 days in captivity, hangs in a separate shadow box, above the Purple Heart.

Bradley said he was glad it gave him a reminder of this year’s important anniversary.

“I don’t think about it often, but then I realized it all happened 61 years ago,? he said. “That’s important, don’t you think??


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