I'm sorry that I
never had an opportunity to apologize to General Omar Bradley
for my thoughtless breach of military courtesy towards him. That
must have been over 35 years ago, shortly after the World War
II fighting in Europe ended.
That General Bradley was equally guilty of a lapse of military
discipline did not excuse me.
Nor did the fact that I was back in the States awaiting discharge
after serving in an Army tank division for four years -- including
one year of combat in Europe.
Looking back at it now, the average combat GI usually felt
that, except the buddies in his own outfit, there seemed to be
only about three men overseas that cared about him or that he
gave a hoot about.
One was Ernie Pyle, that slim. friendly, unassuming reporter
who bypassed Army headquarters, the rear echelons, and the brass
to get right down in the mud and grime and shellfire to talk
with combat GI's and send their stories back to their hometown
The second was Bill Mauldin who delighted the GI's with his
all too true cartoons in the Stars and Stripes depicting
the totally different way of Army life as lived by the combat
soldiers and by the rear echelon forces.
And the third was General Omar Bradley. 0ur division served
under his command for several months of training in England and
almost one year of combat in Europe -- except for a brief period
during the Battle of the Bulge -- when the Germans' last ditch
all-out attack into the Allied lines left our outfit on the Northern
flank of the Bulge where General Montgomery was in command. We
were all glad when the Bulge was eliminated and we were back
with General Bradley.
We had come to know him and like him while in training in
England. He visited our armored division frequently -- not staying
at headquarters but coming on down to where the GI's were preparing
We had seen generals before. In the scorching heat of the
Desert Training Center, General Patton, pearl-handled pistols
and all, had assembled the entire division to pass before him;
afterwards he stood us at attention while he harangued us on
the joys of military discipline.
General Bernard Montgomery had visited us in England and assembled
the division to pass in review before him, and stood us in the
driving rain while he lectured us petulantly on the glories of
We had our fill of what we considered to be arrogant, overbearing
high brass, eager to impress us with their own self-importance.
But Omar Bradley was different -- plain, soft-spoken, considerate,
yet a brilliant strategist, and a leader we respected and admired.
The combat GI's considered him one of us.
With the coming of V-E Day, the combat draftees were detached
from the outfits they had served overseas in and shipped back
home to reception camps to await discharge. Mine was near Boston,
which I found to be filled with "home front" service
personnel, long on sharp uniforms but short on actual war service.
One afternoon while still awaiting my discharge papers -- and
still wearing my armored division uniform -- I strolled along
a Boston boulevard, happy to be almost out of the Army and somewhat
scornful of all the rear echelon troops around me.
Suddenly I looked up and saw coming down the avenue towards
me, an Army passenger car, bearing the flag and stars designating
it to be the car of a general officer. And riding in the car,
to my surprise and delight -- General Omar Bradley! He was accompanied
by several bemedalled aides and seemed as bored and out of place
as I myself was feeling.
Without thinking, I grinned and waved to him, forgetting completely
that what I should be doing was saluting him.
When General Bradley saw me, to him just another one of a
million soldiers, he suddenly, grinned, too, pointed to my Spearhead
Armored Division patch, and waved back to me!
It seemed as though we were two bored soldiers suddenly spotting
a fellow combat veteran and recognizing each other's wartime
services. We both seemed genuinely glad to spot each other among
the throng of rear echelon, non-combat types. We never did salute
each other as protocol called for. Just smiled and waved. And
I never did get an opportunity to apologize to General Bradley.
But I was glad it happened the way it did. I suspect Omar Bradley