Introduction by Barbara Ramsey
A most important figure in Missouri history.
The world relied heavily upon journalists and newspapers for information during WWII. Ernie Pyle was one of those frontline WWII journalists. Pyle would cover the war, meeting generals and soldiers alike. One of the men he covered along his journey was Omar Bradley. He found Omar to be a man who paid special care and attention to the treatment of the soldiers in his command.
Pyle would write that Omar was the “soldier’s general,” which became the nickname that stayed with Omar. Other writers would go on to change Pyle’s label for Omar, making him known as “the GI’s General.”
Just this little insight into General Bradley demonstrates why countless books and articles have been written. Yes, he was an important leader for America during WWII and beyond, but it is the man that Omar was that makes readers connect.
Steve Harrison is one of the many authors having written about Omar. Originally printed in the Freemason, Volume 52, No. 2, Spring 2008, Harrison’s article shares the life of Omar, his service, and his connection to Masonry. A special thank you to Steve Harrison for allowing this reprint of his article for this issue of the Masonic Outreach magazine.
It becomes clear as you learn more about Omar Bradley why he was chosen to be a part of the Masonic Home’s Truman Club Recognition Societies and is featured in the Masonic Museum at the Masonic Complex in Columbia, Missouri.
The Truman Club is a way for the Masonic Home to recognize and thank individual donors for their financial support of the Masonic Home of Missouri. Once a donor’s cumulative giving reaches $1,000, the donor becomes a Truman Club Society Member. Donors who have given $50,000 or more become members of the Omar Bradley Society.
In the Masonic Museum, Omar Bradley is featured in the Patriots and Pathmakers Gallery, a display that highlights his connection to Missouri, as it was his home before going to West Point. Missouri honored their native son dedicating the Omar N. Bradley Airport on July 5, 1943, which is also featured in the display.
The museum display shows the covers of three magazines Omar has graced: Infantry Journal (December 1947), Life (April 5, 1951) and Real Life Comics (January 1945, No. 21). A military journal, a general interest magazine, and a comic — very diverse publications all celebrating the life and achievements of Omar.
In addition, the display features and article in which Omar is addressing a crowd following the war and is quoted as saying:
“That is because you people and others like you, were behind the Army and the Navy and the Air Corps and all other services. Wars are fought today not only by men in the field but also by the people back home.”
As you read the following article on the life of Brother Bradley, it is worth a pause to think about this widely celebrated Mason. He directly impacted the course of a world war, then he continued to give his time and talents as called upon to serve his country. We honor his service. We honor his memory.
The Masonic Home of Missouri is grateful to all those currently serving and their families. In addition, we cannot say thank you enough to all of our Veterans.
The Soldier’s General
By Steve Harrison, Past Master and Fellow, Missouri Lodge of Research
The two Masonic brothers concluded their meeting, shook hands and parted. They both had their doubts. To say this had been one of the most important meetings in World War II was no exaggeration. To say it didn’t go well was no less true. Outside, General Omar Bradley knew he had not shown the forcefulness of other generals. He felt he had been so unimpressive he was astounded his brother had openly confided in him. He had walked in to discuss his command position over the troops in Europe, but walked out wondering if the president would allow his promotion to go forward. “I was flabbergasted,” he later wrote, “I left his office in a troubled state of mind.”
Inside the oval office, President Franklin Roosevelt was also troubled. He wondered if the quiet, unassuming Omar was up to one of the most horrific jobs ever. However, it was Omar’s modest and tempered nature that made him the right fit and won support from both Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall. They both assured Roosevelt that Omar, not the impulsive George Patton, was the man for the job — and the job was a big one, commander of the First Army over Operation Overlord, more commonly known as the Battle of Normandy or, simply, D-Day. It was September, 1943. Nine months later they would all learn if Marshall and Eisenhower were right.
John and Bessie Bradley were a hopelessly poor couple who lived near Clark, Missouri in the late nineteenth century. John, like his father, had started out life as a farmer but at nineteen, entered a rural school. Two years later he found himself qualified to teach and launched his life’s profession as a schoolteacher. The couple greatly admired local newspaper editor Omar Gray and when their son was born on February 12, 1893, they named him after the editor. Omar Nelson Bradley’s middle name came from a local doctor.
John Bradley was an athletic type who carved his own baseball bats and passed his love of the sport on to Omar. In addition to teaching, he set up small libraries in the schools near Clark and taught his son a lifelong love of reading. Just about the time 14-year-old Omar was graduating from Higbee Elementary, John contracted pneumonia and died January 31, 1908, just days short of his 41st birthday. Young Omar was devastated. His mother could not support the little farm they owned by herself, so the family packed up and moved north to the town of Moberly, Missouri. Here, she scratched out a living by taking in borders. Young Omar helped out by delivering the Moberly Democrat.
Omar was a loner in high school, but managed to maintain excellent grades, and to play on the high-school baseball team. After high school he took a job with the Wabash railroad and planned to work until he had enough money to attend the University of Missouri at Columbia. However, a friend suggested he apply for the West Point Academy, where he could get a college education at no cost. He took the advice, tested into West Point, and altered the course of his life.
At West Point, he distinguished himself in athletics, lettering in both baseball and football. While some cadets struggled with the adjustments they had to make in the military academy, Omar found life at West Point suited his personality. He probably was not as successful as he could have been academically because of the time he devoted to sports. As a result, his military advancement there was slow, and he did not achieve the rank of cadet lieutenant until his final year.
Omar graduated 44th out of 164 in his class. It was not a stellar showing, but what a class it was. The young graduates of 1915 would go on to become the leaders of World War II. This group became known as “The Class The Stars Fell On.” It included some of the great and near great of the Second World War, including Omar and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Astonishingly, every member of this class who remained in the army for his entire career, 59 in all, became a general.
After graduation, Omar accepted a series of peacetime assignments while war grew in Europe and civil war raged in Mexico. When, in May 1916, Mexican skirmishes boiled over into United States territory, Omar was sent to Douglas, Arizona where American troops played a waiting game. The standoff came at a bad time for Omar and his fiancée, Mary Elizabeth Quayle, who had been planning a June wedding. Ultimately, the Mexican situation waned and Omar married Mary in Columbia, Missouri on December 28, 1916.
“Brother Bradley stated that he was proud and honored to be associated with Masonry and that he always tried to live according to its teachings.”
— Lodge Records Documenting Bradley’s Pin Ceremony
The young couple hopped from assignment to assignment as Omar served as a military instructor. Omar desperately tried to win an assignment overseas during World War I, but it did not happen. Now a captain, he spent the bulk of the conflict with a unit guarding copper mines in Montana. In August 1918, he finally won his coveted assignment in Europe, but the great influenza outbreak of that year prevented his unit’s deployment. Thoroughly discouraged, he became convinced he would be a military failure.
By 1923, the war was long since over and Omar had been back at West Point teaching mathematics for over three years. Here, he had settled down into the life of a military instructor and Mary was expecting their first child (Elizabeth) in December.
Omar’s reasons for joining Freemasonry remain unrecorded. Perhaps other cadets and officers at West Point introduced him to the Fraternity. Whatever the reason, he followed in their footsteps and on September 23, 1923, petitioned the Lodge closest to the Academy, West Point Lodge #877, F & AM.
WB Fred Hittinger, Master of the Lodge at the time, was his first-line signer, along with L. W. Miller. On the petition, filled out in Omar’s own hand, he professed his belief in God, stated his address was West Point, New York and listed his occupation as “Officer, United States Army.” He was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on November 15, 1923.
Aside from teaching math at West Point, Omar spent his time as a student of military tactics and history. Inspired by William Tecumseh Sherman, Omar was convinced the strategy of plodding trench warfare recently employed in the war in Europe was ineffective, and that a better way to defeat an enemy was through deep incursions into its territory. His admiration of such military giants as Sherman, coupled with the experience he gained the following year in the advanced course at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, shaped his military career and came to good use later during the invasion of France. Omar acknowledged his training at Fort Benning bolstered his confidence more than anything he had learned elsewhere, “the confidence I needed had been restored; I never suffered a faint heart again.”
In 1927, the army appointed Omar officer in charge of National Guard affairs, becoming the liaison officer between the U.S. Army and the Hawaiian National Guard. Many of the officers stationed there enjoyed life in the tropical paradise and even requested lengthy extensions. Not Omar — he felt the position was a dead end and within a year, requested, and received, orders to attend the Army Command and General Staff school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He viewed this assignment as an honor and thought it would guarantee the rank of colonel prior to retirement.
In Kansas, Omar not only furthered his military career, but also his Masonic journey. Here, he joined the Scottish Rite Armed Forces Consistory at Fort Leavenworth.
A year later, Omar was at a crossroads. He had completed his studies at Fort Leavenworth. The army offered him the choice of two positions: The first was treasurer of the Academy at West Point. The second was a position as an instructor at the infantry school at Fort Benning. Mary much preferred the comforts of West Point. However, Omar preferred the outdoor atmosphere at Benning. He also felt it was a better career move. Later in life he wrote, “We chose Benning, the most fortunate decision of my life.”
The decision was fortunate because at Benning he served under and gained the confidence of George C. Marshall. Here, he became a member of an informal group of “Marshall Men” and made a favorable impression on him. Omar later said no one had influenced him more, personally or professionally, than Marshall even though he admitted never feeling entirely comfortable in Marshall’s presence.
Omar was recognized as an innovative officer for, among other things, his development of a prototypic Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning. He steadily rose through the military ranks and held a series of increasingly important positions. By 1941, the situation in Europe was growing progressively darker. In preparation for a possible war, Omar was temporarily promoted to the position of Brigadier General, skipping the rank of full colonel and becoming the first member of that stellar West Point class of 1915 to become a general.
Omar had little time for personal interests serving as commandant at Ft. Benning. On Sundays, he would take time off to be with Mary. The winters were mild in mid-Georgia and gardening, a hobby they shared, was a near year-round activity. One Sunday, he and Mary were in the garden pruning flowers when an old friend, Harold R. “Pink” Bull, joined them. “Have you heard,” asked Bull, “The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor.” Omar was stunned. Within minutes he was in uniform, at headquarters and in charge. He realized there was little chance of an attack or sabotage in Georgia. Nonetheless, he immediately executed the region’s preparedness procedure, “Plan White,” and within hours his troops were guarding key facilities in the state. He realized, however, more important responsibilities were about to come to him.
Omar was recognized as a top trainer of infantrymen. As such, he was put in charge of two of the army’s most elite units, the 28th and 82nd Infantry Divisions. As in World War I, he became concerned he would never see combat. However, on February 12, 1943, his 50th birthday, he received the following telegram from George Marshall:
“It is only fitting that your birthday should precede by only a few days your transfer to command a corps, which comes as a long-delayed acknowledgment of your splendid record with the 28th division. Congratulations and best wishes. ”
It was the birthday present he had been hoping for.
A week later, the allied forces suffered one of their worst setbacks in the war. Three hundred Americans died, 3,000 were wounded and 3,000 were missing or captured at the battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. It was Eisenhower’s second defeat in rapid succession. Omar’s job was to be “Eisenhower’s eyes and ears” and to help him turn things around. He did just that. Under his direction, Omar’s II Corps learned “to crawl, to walk and then run.” By mid-May, 1943, thanks in no small part to Omar Bradley, the allied forces had won the North African campaign.
Two generals under Eisenhower — Omar and George Patton — were recognized as the dominant battlefield commanders of the North African fighting and of the march into Italy. Patton was at least Omar’s equal as a battlefield strategist and tactician, but he was a human relations catastrophe. Omar, on the other hand, understood and related to the everyday foot soldier. The troops responded to this understanding and turned their respect for Omar into victories. Considered the soldier’s general, they affectionately called him “Brad.”
Because of his leadership abilities, both Marshall and Eisenhower wanted Omar, not Patton, to be the general in charge of preparing the troops for the invasion of France. First, they had to convince President Franklin Roosevelt that Omar was the man for the job. After that uncomfortable meeting with Omar in September, 1943, Roosevelt, was indeed unconvinced. Marshall and Eisenhower stood their ground. Operation Overlord had its commander –— Omar Bradley.
Marshall and Eisenhower were right. On June 6, 1944, Omar led the American forces onto Omaha Beach. In a day of important decisions, only one decision was critical — whether or not to press on or pull back in the face of the German conflagration. After careful consideration, Omar felt the troops he had trained were resolute and determined enough to gain a foothold on the beach. It didn’t come easy, but D-Day was a success. Less than a month later, the American forces were well-established in North France and Operation Overlord became Operation Cobra, also under Omar’s command.
Inspired by some of the military tactics he had learned years ago by studying generals like William T. Sherman, Omar led his forces out of Normandy and, slowly, eventually, to a victory in Europe.
As WWII drew to a close, Omar requested a transfer to the Pacific, but the war ended before new president Harry S. Truman could comply. Instead, Truman appointed Omar Administrator of the Veterans Administration. Omar was reluctant to accept, but the dutiful general took the position and spent the next three years modernizing the bureaucracy there. From the Veterans Administration he became Army Chief of Staff and, in 1949, the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then, on September 22, 1950, Congress appointed him General of the Army, making him one of only nine men to hold the five-star rank in US history. To date, he is the last to do so.
In this capacity, Omar supported President Truman when the he relieved Douglas MacArthur of his command in North Korea. MacArthur had pushed for all out war, which many thought would develop into a war with Red China. Omar cautioned against this in congressional testimony with one of his most famous quotes, “Red China is not the powerful nation seeking to dominate the world. Frankly, in the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”
Having already completed the first volume of his memoirs in 1951, Omar retired from military life in 1953. The next year, he became chairman of the Bulova Corporation’s research and development laboratories and then, five years later, he became chairman of the entire company. He held this position until retiring in 1973 at the age of 80.
In 1965, Mary died of virulent leukemia. The following year, while on business for Bulova, he met Esther Dora “Kitty” Buhler. They were married in September. Together he and Kitty established the Omar N. Bradley Library at West Point in 1974, as well as the Omar N. Bradley Foundation.
Omar Bradley was a “true and faithful brother among us.” Over the years, he remained in communication with his Lodge. On October 22, 1965, he was coroneted a 33rd Degree, Inspector General Honorary and Honorary Member of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction. In 1974, he traveled back to West Point where his Lodge presented him his 50-year award and certificate. The then-current Master of the Lodge, Robert G. Swanson, presented his certificate. WB Fred Hittinger, who had been Master of the Lodge when Omar joined, signed his petition and raised him, presented his pin. The Lodge records document the ceremony as follows:
“Bro. Bradley stated that he was proud and honored to be associated with Masonry and that he always tried to live according to its teachings.
After the presentations concluded, Bro. Bradley took the time from his busy schedule to spend a few minutes reminiscing with some of the Lodge’s more senior members about their baseball playing days, after which the General had to leave to return to California where he presently resides.”
Omar received countless awards and honors in his life. On April 8, 1981 the eighty-eight year-old soldier traveled to New York to accept the prestigious Gold Medal Award from the National Institute of Social Sciences. Only minutes after accepting the award, a blood clot in his brain took his life while Kitty and dozens of guests watched helplessly. Omar’s body was flown back to Washington, DC on Air Force One. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, next to Mary. Kitty, who died in 2004, is buried there as well.
The most recognized of all his achievements is his victorious leadership on the beach at Normandy. However, many historians believe his support of Truman and strong advice against a full-scale war in Korea to be of even greater significance, as it was a major factor in the United States’ avoiding a direct conflict with Red China. He may have failed to impress Roosevelt when he met with him in 1941, but his accomplishments speak for themselves.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 211.
- Elizabeth Bradley Dorsey, Bradley’s daughter, America’s 5-Star Heroes, ©1998, A&E Television Networks
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 17 – 18.
- Sparse documentation exists on Bradley’s life in Higbee. He graduated from Higbee elementary, but the exact date was not available.
- http://www.kkpnyc.com/westpoint/westpoint_history.html; http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/Bradley/Bradley.htm
- In 1918, the Bradleys had a stillborn boy (http://www.rootsweb.com/~morandol/brad.htm)
- Petition for Initiation, Omar Nelson Bradley, September 20, 1923, courtesy West Point Lodge #877, Highland Falls, NY. For the record, Bradley was initiated October 18, 1923 and passed November 1, 1923. His investigating committee consisted of Brothers Robert Donaldson, H. Koehler and Richard M. Levy. Petition and other referenced Lodge materials were provided through the considerable effort of RWB Irving Breitbart, Secretary, West Point Lodge #877.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 59.
- Stephenson, James H., President, Omar Bradley Memorial Class of the Scottish Rite, 1983, personal correspondence to West Point Lodge #877, February 5, 1983.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 62.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson, A Soldier’s Story, Henry Holt and Company, 1951, p. 20.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 102 – 103.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 142.
- By some accounts, he was called “the GI General.”
- America’s 5-Star Heroes, ©1998, A&E Television Networks
- Brother Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army; Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, General of the Army; Brother George C. Marshall, General of the Army; Chester Nimitz, Fleet Admiral; William “Bull” Halsey, Jr., Fleet Admiral; Brother Omar N. Bradley, General of the Army; Brother Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, General of the Air Force; William D. Leahy, Fleet Admiral; Brother Ernest J. King, Fleet Admiral; Brother John J. “Blackjack” Pershing and Brother George Washington held the rank of General of the Armies of the United States (Washington posthumously), which some consider to be higher than the five-star rank.
- Testimony before the Senate Committees on Armed Services and Foreign Relations, May 15, 1951. Military Situation in the Far East, hearings, 82d Congress, 1st session, part 2, p. 732 (1951). Years later, President John F. Kennedy used this same quote to characterize the Vietnam War, and several, including presidential candidate John Kerry have used it to describe the Iraq War.
- Bradley, Omar Nelson and Blair, Clay, A General’s Life, Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 670.
The Soldier Without a Smile
Omar Bradley’s reserved personality followed him his entire life. Not only did it influence Franklin Roosevelt’s first impression of him, but others also found him to be withdrawn. He wrote of being a loner in high school and mentioned in his autobiography that, even though he had Eisenhower’s confidence, he knew Ike thought he had a dull personality. While the makeup of a person’s personality is a complex issue, Omar wrote of connected incidents in his life, which even he thought had a bearing on how people perceived him.
Always the athlete, Omar was an excellent ice skater and enjoyed skating on the lake in Forest Park in Moberly. Late one night in 1909, seventeen-year-old Omar was skating in relative darkness. The limited visibility turned out to be catastrophic. Omar collided with another skater whose head slammed directly into Omar’s face at high speed. The accident was, in Bradley’s words, “bone smashing.” It knocked virtually every one of his teeth loose, caused severe, lifelong gum damage, and turned Omar’s teeth into a jumbled mess. Omar’s family had no money for a dentist. As a result, he lived with the aftermath of the injury for the remainder of his life, suffering numerous abscesses and gum infections.
During the year he spent at Fort Leavenworth, the problems with his mouth became particularly severe. With all due respect to the armed forces, the army of that day was not exactly known for its world-class dental care. The army promptly pulled every one of Omar’s teeth and provided him with a set of dentures, which must certainly have been a step or two better than Brother George Washington’s famous but fictional wooden teeth.
As a result of the skating injury and becoming toothless at the young age of 35, Omar rarely smiled. About the best he could manage was a tight, pursed-lip grin, a fact, which is borne out in photographs throughout his life. The story of Omar Bradley’s life reveals a serious, career-driven, no-nonsense soldier and people certainly perceived him as such. However, extreme perceptions that he was withdrawn and diffident may be due to his skating accident as a youth.