Omar N. Bradley

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Omar N. Bradley

Born February 12, 1893
Clark, Missouri
Died April 8, 1981
New York, New York

American military leader and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Omar N. Bradley was a five-star general of the U.S. Army whose career spanned two world wars and the Korean conflict. Known as the "GI's general," Bradley always identified with the common soldier and was unusually kind and mild-mannered while executing the most rigorous of commands. As commander of the Twelfth Army Group in Europe in World War II (1939–45), he proved to be one of the outstanding military leaders in that war. In the 1950s, Bradley made a transition to a very different kind of service and warfare. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Korean War (1950–53), he worked with the Truman administration in the troubling complexities of limited warfare in the age of cold war tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union and the atom bomb.

Early life

Omar Nelson Bradley was born in Clark, Missouri, on February 12, 1893. His father, John Smith Bradley, was a teacher, and his mother, Sarah Elizabeth Hubbard Bradley, was a homemaker. His mother's sister died while Bradley was young, and although they had little money, his parents raised her two daughters as their own. Bradley's father died of pneumonia in January 1908. After his father's death, he moved with his mother to Moberly, where he graduated from high school. Although he had planned to become an attorney, he did not have the money for college. Instead, he won an appointment to West Point and entered that prestigious military academy in 1911. Bradley loved West Point. He was a good athlete and played on the varsity football and baseball teams. His was in an impressive class at West Point: one of his classmates was Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; see entry), who would go on to be a five-star general and win two terms as president of the United States.

Following his graduation in 1915, Bradley was assigned to duty at Fort Laughton near Seattle, Washington, and then in Douglas, Arizona. On December 28, 1916, Bradley married his high school sweetheart, Mary Quayle. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, Bradley tried to get an assignment to a combat unit, but instead spent the war guarding copper mines in Montana.

Rising in the ranks

After the war, Bradley graduated from both the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While at Benning, he drew the attention of the military and government leader George C. Marshall (1880–1959). Bradley then spent five years teaching, one year as an instructor in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at South Dakota State University, and four years in the math department at West Point. While he was teaching at West Point, Mary gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, their only child. In 1934, Bradley graduated from the Army War College and served as assistant to Marshall following the latter's appointment as Chief of Staff in April 1939. As the United States became involved in World War II, Bradley was taking his place as an army commander. In his late forties when the United States entered the war, he was balding and wore glasses and was generally looked upon as an all around nice guy, not the usual tough guy who leads army units. In February 1941, he was promoted from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general. He became commandant of the Infantry School and was promoted to major general in February 1942. He was assigned to command the Eighty-second Infantry Division and later the Twenty-eighth Infantry Division.

Leader in World War II

Early in 1943, Bradley became General Dwight D. Eisenhower's personal representative in the field in North Africa. For a brief time he served as deputy commander of the United States II Corps under General George Patton (1885–1945). He assumed command of the II Corps when Patton took command of the Seventh Army in Sicily, Italy, again serving under Bradley. Patton, once an idol to Bradley, handled his men in combat in Italy in some ways that were troubling to Bradley. At this time, the larger-than-life Patton brought controversy to himself for his involvement in the infamous slapping incidents, in which he struck two enlisted men who were suffering from battle fatigue. When Sicily was safely in Allied hands, Bradley, rather than Patton, was chosen to command American forces in the next major operation of the war.

In the summer of 1943, Bradley was selected to command the First U.S. Army in the Normandy invasion and was designated commanding general of the First U.S. Army Group. Patton, who assumed command of the newly activated Third Army on August 1, 1944, reported to Bradley. Together they carried out Operation Cobra, leading to the eventual liberation of most of northern France. Bradley demonstrated remarkable ability as a strategist and battlefield manager. On August 1, 1944, he took command of the Twelfth Army Group, which eventually comprised the First, Third, Ninth, and Fifteenth American armies, the largest body of American soldiers ever to serve under one field commander. In the spring of 1945, after his armies had broken the German winter attacks and pushed through to the Rhine River, Bradley was promoted to four-star general.

When the war ended in August 1945, Bradley became administrator of veterans affairs. In February 1948, he left what he called a challenging and rewarding career with the Veterans Administration to become chief of staff of the U.S. Army. Eighteen months later he became the first permanent chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a newly created agency within the Department of Defense charged with advising the president and the secretary of defense on matters of war, drawing up military plans and directing unified combat actions.

The Korean War

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) invaded South Korea with surprising force, driving the South Koreans into a rapid retreat. Within days, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; see entry) and his Departments of State and Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff made the decision to use U.S. troops to stop the attack. The decision was made on the assumption that the Soviet Union was behind the invasion and was attempting to expand its sphere of control into Korea. Shortly after the United States decided to intervene, the United Nations (UN) announced its support for South Korea.

Bradley's view that the United States was right to intervene in Korea while not seeking to expand the war in Asia represented a majority view within the military. Bradley's often quoted statement that an unlimited war in Asia would be "the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy," was a response to the position taken by American general Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964; see entry), then commander of UN forces in Korea, who believed that only an all-out war could present a victory against the communists. The Joint Chiefs had a difficult role to play with MacArthur throughout the first year of the war. "He always considered us a bunch of kids," Bradley said later at a seminar at Princeton University, as quoted in Joseph Goulden's Korea: The Untold Story of the War. "General MacArthur has always pretty much gone his own way." The Joint Chiefs may have allowed the military commander too much room for making his own policy. In the end, he was relieved of command because it was felt he could not be trusted to follow their orders or the orders of the president. Bradley had very mixed emotions when President Truman relieved MacArthur of his command in 1951, but the Joint Chiefs were in favor of his dismissal, and Bradley firmly supported the position of limited warfare in Korea.

Bradley had been appointed to the rank of General of the Army in September 1950, making him the fourth five-star general in the U.S. Army. After the Korean War ended in 1953, he resigned from full-time military service, after forty-three years of active service. He then pursued a business career, serving as chairman of the board of the Bulova Watch Company from 1958 to 1973. In 1965, Bradley's wife died, and for several months he suffered from severe depression. In September 1966, he married Kitty Buhler, a Hollywood screenwriter thirty years younger than Bradley. They remained together until his death in April 1981.

Bradley spent his last years in Texas. Upon his death, President Ronald Reagan said of Bradley, as quoted in Newsweek: "He was the GI's general because he was, always, a GI."

Where to Learn More

Blumenson, Martin. Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885–1945. New York: William Morrow, 1985.

Bradley, Omar N. A Soldier's Story. New York: Henry Holt, 1951.

Bradley, Omar N., and Clay Blair. A General's Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1948.

Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story of the War. New York: Times Books, 1982.

Pogue, Forrest C. George C. Marshall. 3 vols. New York: Viking Press, 1963–66.

United States Army in World War II: Mediterranean Theater of Operations. 3 vols. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1957–59.

United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations. 7 vols. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1950–65.

Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.

Words to Know

cold war: the struggle for power, authority, and prestige between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist Western powers of Europe and the United States from 1945 until 1991.

GI: someone who is or has been enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Joint Chiefs of Staff: an agency within the Department of Defense serving to advise the president and the secretary of defense on matters of war. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consists of a chairman, a vice chairman, the chief of staff of the army, the chief of naval operations, the chief of staff of the air force, and the commandant of the marine corps.

limited warfare: warfare with an objective other than the enemy's complete destruction, as in holding a defensive line during negotiations.

United Nations: an international organization founded in 1945 comprised of member nations whose goal is to promote international peace and good relations among nations.

Who's in Charge of U.S. Defense?

The Defense Department is based at the Pentagon, a huge five-sided building covering thirty-four acres in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The role of the Department of Defense is to coordinate and supervise all the different agencies and functions relating to national security and military affairs. It is divided into three sections: army, navy, and air force.

The secretary of defense supervises the entire U.S. military. This position is appointed by the president with the approval of the Senate. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the secretary of defense was Louis Arthur Johnson (1891–1956). Johnson resigned his post in September 1950, and was replaced by former army chief of staff and former secretary of state George C. Marshall (1880–1959).

The secretary of defense oversees the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Omar Bradley, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported to Johnson and then Marshall, and presided over the chiefs of staff from the army and air force and the chief of naval operations. The other chiefs of staff when the Korean War broke out in 1950 were Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Forrest P. Sherman (1896-1951; died of a heart attack July 22, 1951, and was replaced by Admiral William M. Fechteler); Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins (1896–1987); and Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg (1899–1954).