Ken Bradford '76 | April 4, 2019
For most of my life, a few proper nouns were supposed to satisfy my curiosity about World War II.
My high school history classes spent weeks on the Plymouth Colony, a few more on the American Revolution and even longer on the War Between the States. We ran short on time and had to scurry through World Wars I and II. If you could remember Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower, Churchill, Hitler and D-Day, you were five steps toward a passing grade.
Yet in the 1960s, when I was a child, you couldn’t escape World War II stories on black-and-white TV or in the movies. My brothers and I patrolled the woods on our family farm, using corncobs as hand grenades and crooked sticks as Tommy guns as we looked for Germans among the pine trees.
My father had served in that war, barely out of high school when he accompanied anti-aircraft batteries to the border of Belgium and Germany. One day we built up the courage to ask him if he ever killed anyone. He had a two-word reply: “Not directly.”
And that was that.
My father’s final battle was against colon cancer. Before he died in 2001, he and I had many quiet conversations on his sunny back porch. At age 76, he still was tightly zipped about his war experiences, but on a rare moment these words would emerge, “I always wondered why the Panzers were still smoking when we reached the Autobahn.”
I’m still seeking answers. The closest I’ve come is through Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1997 book, Citizen Soldiers.
Read more here.