December 15, 2016
Motherhood Moment (blog)
As families gather this holiday season, they often think of loved ones who cannot join them; but for military families, that feeling is all too familiar—even when their soldiers have returned home. Between 11 and 20 percent of servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, and 22 US veterans kill themselves every day. According to Hale Bradt, that tragic reality is not limited to modern wars.
“My father, Wilber Bradt, was 45 years old when he killed himself—shortly after returning from World War II,” says Bradt, author of Wilber’s War. “Outwardly, his future seemed assured. So, why did he do it? I have some 700 letters he wrote, and have learned he felt depressed, tired, and teary, with no energy to look for a job. But that wasn’t all.
I had a chance to interview Hale to learn more.
What led you to learn about your father and family’s past, and what brought you to tell that story to the world?
My father’s suicide shortly after returning home from overseas and unanswered questions about the paternity of one of my sisters led to me to search for letters my father had sent during the war. Upon finding a few addressed to me, I was immediately struck by their literary quality. Then and there I knew that, if I could find more, I would have the keys to a profound view of the war and how it affects military families. Eventually, I found some 700 letters he had written, mostly to my mother and to his parents.
Describe the evolving relationship between your parents, Wilber and Norma, as they strove to keep their marriage vital while coping with forces beyond their control.
Wilber was totally enamored of Norma and wrote beautiful, sometimes poetic, odes to her beauty, her kindness, her providing two wonderful children, and her support of him when he was discouraged. In turn she apparently reciprocated with letters almost daily with news of home and sending him materials he needed, such as new watch and cleats for his shoes. As his departure overseas neared, the correspondence became passionate and sometimes explicitly sexual. As the months wore on—he was overseas three full years—his letters became more and more pragmatic, but with a bit of adulation of Norma in each. Later when Norma was dealing with her secret pregnancy under the pretense of doing secret war work, Wilber became almost frantic with worry about her well-being. In the final years of the war, the correspondence continues with each providing emotional support to the other, as each dealt with the challenges in their own lives.
When your father returned home after combat in the Pacific Theater, he killed himself. What led to his suicide?
Suicide is so illogical, one can never know for sure, but Wilber was carrying heavy burdens after arriving home. He was discouraged and did not feel like returning to his former job as a chemistry professor; and he was “too tired” to look for a job. He still had a piece of shrapnel in his eyebrow, and he was suffering from malarial symptoms the morning he died. Also the hidden story of my mother’s pregnancy during his absence may well have been a factor, though we do not know how much he knew about that.
What role did PTSD play in your father’s tragic death?
His letters describe a number of “close calls” including the 500-lb bomb that landed eight feet from him and put that piece of shrapnel in his eyebrow, while killing several men, and Japanese machine gun bullets passing inches over his head during a firefight, and his young officers and men being killed as the result of his orders. Finally, when the war ended he was about to lead a regiment in the invasion of Japan, a battle he did not expect to survive. Upon reflection, it is inconceivable to me that those scenes would not be replaying in his head during those weeks he was back in the USA.
Why do you consider your mother a heroine, in addition to your father as a hero?
Her war was on the home front. She had all the worries of caring for the family: finding apartments, choosing schools for the children, and managing finances, all the while supporting Wilber from afar and working to improve her impressive musical and writing skills so she could better support the family should Wilber not return. As a very religious woman, her pregnancy would have been devastating to her, but she carried on with it while supporting her older kids and later her new infant and also Wilber overseas. In the end, Wilber was not able to continue with life, but Norma—despite lifelong feelings of guilt—carried on for many more decades as a dutiful mother and also as loyal wife to a second husband. Her war was on the home front; she fought it and persevered.
What were the challenges—and the heartrending outcome—of a soldier’s return home after a long absence, a topic with considerable relevance today?
The sad fact is that during the absence, both the expectations and lives of the spouse and the soldier evolve along independent paths, especially when their experiences during the separation are as different as they are for soldiers in combat and at-home spouses and children. When they merge, the risk of tragedy is real. Wilber was overseas a full three years, which surely made the adjustment to home coming more difficult,but the multiple deployments today’s soldiers face could be even more trying.
How was your life altered as a result of World War II, and what impact did your father’s deployment have on your entire family?
We survived; life carried on. You have seen above, how my mother fared. During Wilber’s deployment, we all (my mother, my sister Valerie, and I) developed a sense of independence that served us well in later life. I became a college professor and Valerie became a highly accomplished journalist. Valerie, who was nine when Wilber went into the service and thirteen when he returned, still, even now, feels deeply the loss of her daddy during her teen years. I must add though, that we never lost the sense of his presence during his absences; his letters and occasional leaves made his presence very real to us. But that all ceased when he died.
How was your life impacted by the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941?
Well, for me it was especially memorable because it was my 11th birthday. We were living in New York City then, and we knew war was coming. On that day we knew for sure that Wilber would be facing death in combat. Wilber too knew it was an epochal event; he wrote us a letter from his Florida camp while listening to radio broadcasts from Hawaii during the bombing there.
How did your family deal with the holidays during your father’s deployment?
On Christmas 1941, just after Pearl Harbor, we traveled by bus to Florida to be with Wilber for Christmas. I remember my wonderment at the warmth of Christmas day. Our subsequent holidays were sometimes spent with friends but since, we did not have other family in Maine and New York City, they must have been rather lonely, when I think about it now. However, I have no memory of such a feeling, probably because Norma was so adept at making wherever we were a happy “normal” home for her children.
Hale Bradt is the author Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II.
December 6, 2016
Book Marketing Buzz Blog
by Brian Feinblum
Hale Bradt is the author of Wilber’s War (abridged): An American Family’s Journey through World War II (December 7, 2016). As a Korean War veteran and an astrophysicist retired from M.I.T., he once searched for black holes, but turned to searching for family and wartime history. He has been intrigued by the Bradt family story for more than three decades, interviewing relatives, academic and military colleagues, and a Japanese officer against whom his father fought in the Solomon Islands. His discovery of his fater’s letters from the Pacific gave him an unusual basis for exploring new aspects of World War II history, as he scoured the National Archives and even visited the Pacific battle sites where his father fought; there, he found the artifacts and people his father had known and written about. As a history buff and one who remembers WWII, Bradt is well qualified to provide a new context about a country at war.
1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book? Long after World War II, I came upon a few of my soldier dad’s (Wilber’s) wartime letters from the Pacific Theater. I found them to be of high literary quality: descriptive, poetic, loving, humorous, and technically accurate. Since, he had committed suicide shortly after returning home after the war, I realized then and there that if I could find more such letters, I would have a window into his life and psyche, into the Pacific War from the army perspective, and into the effects of war on families on the home front. Eventually, I found some 700 letters he had written, mostly to his wife, Norma, his parents, and his two children.
2. What is it about and whom do you believe us your targeted reader? It tells the story of a chemistry professor and National Guardsman who went to war as an artillery 3. officer. He was overseas for three full years, went through three phases of combat in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and the Philippines and, at the war’s end, commanded an infantry regiment that was about to storm the beaches of mainland Japan. He was wounded twice and earned three Silver Star medals for personal heroism. It is also a story of his love for my mother, Norma, who faced great challenges of her own: supporting Wilber overseas with letters and shipments of needed items, looking after her children, managing the family finances, and dealing with her own infidelity that resulted in a pregnancy. It is a book for military families, including the spouses of service persons, and of course for those interested in the history of the Pacific War. Its army focus is in contrast to the oft-heard marine and navy accounts.
3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down? (1) A visceral memory of a three-year wartime odyssey through the western Pacific and (2) an awareness that war is terribly damaging to both the soldiers who are directly engaged and those who fight it on the home front.
4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? Interview the potential subjects of your writings and others associated with them early while they are still with us, and collect letters and other documents about them while they are still available. I first came upon my dad’s letters in 1980 when his siblings and many of his military and academic colleagues were still alive. My mother was still living at the time as were several of her siblings. I even interviewed a Japanese colonel who commanded the battalion that directly opposed my dad’s unit. Getting a sense of place is important also; I was able to visit the Pacific battlefields where my dad fought and met people he knew in the Philippines and New Zealand. All this is included in my book.
5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I have little experience in the industry, so I have little to offer, other than to note the increasing proliferation of publishing and marketing channels and the complexity of dealing with them. These can be overwhelming to the novice author. I have published two academic books with Cambridge Univ. Press, but this work, Wilber’s War, was published by myself through my one-man firm, Van Dorn Books. The first version of Wilber’s Was was a trilogy. Despite good reviews and three awards including two silver awards, it has sold only moderately well – its size is more than most readers want. This newer one-volume distillation, Wilber’s War (abridged) should fare better.
6. What great challenges did you have in writing your book? Except for one hurdle, I do not look back on the project as a series of challenges, because I had so much fun doing it, visiting and interviewing relatives, searching for photos and documents, visiting the Pacific battlefields. Of course, getting it on paper was a large job but I did it a bit at a time over the past few years. The one huge hurdle for me was whether or not to tell Norma’s story in full. One of my sisters had and still has deep reservations about the morality of my doing so. In my heart, I had those same reservations and, for decades, delayed putting it into publishable form. But as another sister said: “Hale, you must do this; it is everyone’s story.” So, I did.
7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? This work captures wartime in a factual dispassionate manner, not overly dramatized, as is so often the case. It exposes the inner thoughts of a soldier hero who could not go on with post-war life. It also reveals the trials of his lover on the home front. It is the story of two heroes—one male and one female— of World War II.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.
April 26, 2016
Stories that need to be told
By Jerri Anne Hopkins
This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, our national day of remembrance of those who gave their lives fighting for the United States across the world.
All over the country, patriotism abounds as festivities and events both large and small mark the day. Locally, the weekend marks the commissioning of a new crop of officers from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The weekend is also the beginning of summer fun. Families spend the long weekend trying out barbeques, pools and the outdoors season.
But what are we actually remembering on Memorial Day? We can study history: the political, ideological and sociological causes of wars; how dynasties fall and despots rise; battle strategies and tactics; heroic rescues and genocidal massacres; the technology of weapons. But how can we know how it feels to fight a war, to experience the enforced intimacy and daily routine of barracks life juxtaposed with the homicidal frenzy of battle?
Only surviving veterans can tell us that. Many don’t want to talk about their experiences, even to family. Some find it too painful to remember. Some put the story completely out of their minds. Others are haunted by memories that affect the rest of their lives. Many of us, even those with military family members, simply don’t ask.
America started with a war and almost every generation since then has known a major conflict. By studying these stories, we may eventually learn enough to prevent future wars. But first they must be told.
Hale Bradt is doing just that in one form. Students at Southern High School in Anne Arundel County are preserving veterans’ memories in another form.
Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey
Capt. Wilber E. Bradt served in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II with the men and trucks and howitzers of his field artillery regiment.
“After his Maine National Guard unit was called up, he trained for two years all over the county, and we’d see him over the summer. Then he was gone for three whole years,” recalls daughter Valerie Hymes, an Annapolis writer.
Over those five years, Wilber wrote some 700 literate and detailed battlefield letters home to family and friends.
“At the end, his unit had prepared for the invasion of Japan, and he expected to die,” Hymes
I am thankful to have lived to see the end of the war. In fact I’m rather pleasantly surprised to be here considering the times I considered the odds against it. There is no question in my mind but that your prayers and the prayers of your friends [were] a great help and protection to me in the past years.– August 16, 1945 at the end of the war, to Norma, Valerie and Hale
Wilber returned home to his wife and two teenage children.
“We were so happy. It seemed like the whole country was celebrating,” says daughter Val, then 13. “Then six weeks later he was gone.”
Washington police and Coroner A. Magruder MacDonald are awaiting the completion of an Army investigation of the circumstances surrounding the gunshot death of Lt. Col. Wilbur E. Bradt, 45, Pacific war hero and former college professor, who was found in a weapon-filled basement trophy room at his home yesterday morning with a gaping wound in his chest. – The Washington Star: Sunday, December 2, 1945
The year was 1945. Son Hale Bradt was 14. Bradt, now a retired professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did his own tour of duty with the Navy during the Korean War. Then in the 1980s, he began collecting his father’s letters.
“I have long been a history buff with a special interest in the Pacific campaigns of World War II, probably because my father participated in them,” Bradt said. “My discovery of his articulate, detailed and descriptive letters from the Pacific gave me a basis for exploring new aspects of that history.”
It was on this move that we went thru a swamp that surpassed all my ideas of swamps. It was deep, slimy, stinking, sticky, sucking mud under about six inches of very nasty water. There were vines and rotten logs to climb over and really every step was over crotch deep. Several times I doubted if I could pull a leg out of the depth to which it had sunk. It would have been a bad place to have the Japs open up on me. However, they didn’t, probably because our rear guard kept them busy where they were. – October 20, 1943: describing a patrol he had been on the previous month, on Arundel Island, New Georgia, in the Solomons
“This is a story that has to be told,” Hymes advised.
Inspired, Bradt interviewed family members, friends and his father’s military comrades and foes, including a Japanese officer who fought directly against him. He visited the battlefields and researched the events.
“My own science background,” he added, “helped me discern what was most important in those letters and helped me search out the less visible facets of both my parents’ lives.”
Finally, he created an intimate portrait of a family during wartime: the soldier overseas and the family on the home front. The three books in the trilogy are Book 1, Citizen Soldier; Book 2, Combat and New Life; Book 3, Victory and Homecoming. Together they tell a tale of duty, heroism, love and human frailty and of a son seeking to understand his family’s legacy.
Readers of Bay Weekly can use the code FFWW for a 25 percent discount on the hardcover Wilber’s War trilogy in a slipcase. A one-volume version of the trilogy appears in December: www.wilberswar.com. Wilber’s War is also available as a Kindle eBook, by book or as a set.
[The article continues with a report about Maryland high schoolers videotaping interviews of Maryland Vietnam veterans.]
November 28, 2015
Wilber’s War chronicles the story of two ordinary Americans, Wilber and Norma Bradt, during an extraordinary time, World War II. Their story, told in three volumes, offers fresh insight—on a deeply personal level—into the historic conflict as it was fought by the U.S. Army in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and The Philippines and by a family on the home front. It is an epic tale of duty, heroism, love, and human frailty.
The story is told in large part in Wilber’s own words in a sensitive editing of his some 700 richly detailed wartime letters. His untimely death at war’s end launches the reader into the family’s wartime saga.
The work spotlights the ways in which individuals shaped, and were shaped by, World War II. It offers a nuanced view into the complexities faced by one family and by U.S. society as a whole when it ships soldiers off to war and asks loved ones to forge new lives on the home front.
Author Hale Bradt, Wilber and Norma’s son, shares his parents’ stories with insight, compassion, and a wealth of carefully selected images that bring their experiences to life. On his 50th birthday, Hale Bradt made a discovery that would not only change his own life but would further enrich the American story of World War II. Prompted by an argument with one of his sisters, he unearthed long-forgotten letters written by his father, Wilber, while Wilber served in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Stunned by their power and insight, Bradt began a decades-long journey to learn more about his father and his family’s past, unlocking stories that thrust him into a saga of heroism and heart-wrenching drama. Visiting in the 1980s the battlefields where his father fought, he adds another uniquely American voice to this rich story: that of a son seeking to unravel the tangled threads of his family’s legacy.
|Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II
by Hale Bradt
1112 pages, 39 maps, 269 photos/facsimiles
ISBN (the trilogy): 978-0-9908544-0-1
Image: On of 12 105-mm howitzers of Wilber’s battalion (152nd Field Artillery) firing “over the American perimeter,” Aitape, New Guinea, August 4, 1944. www.wilberswar.com
[The Winding River article continues with the following excerpts from Wilber’s War:}
|Excerpts from “Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey througnh World War II”
Visit www.wilberswar.com for more excerpts and information on the 3-volume gift set.
Camp Blanding, Florida, December 7, 1941
New York City, January 1943 (narrator)
Arundel Island, Solomon Islands, September 1943
Ondonga, Solomon Islands, October 3, 1943
En route to U.S.A., October 5, 1945
[End of excerpts; the Winding River article continues.]
Wilber’s letters are vivid and highly literate. He wrote with candor, often with humor, and in detail of censorable battlefield events; those letters would be mailed when censorship was lifted. Alongside the social and psychological value of the letters, they provide a stunning first-person description of war told in its midst. It is an army story of the Pacific War—not the oft-told navy and marine story— and it reflects the mores of the time; patriotism was strong and some topics remained unspoken.
Skillfully juxtaposed are the backstory of the family at home, the wider aspects of the war, the author’s visits to the battle areas, and his search into the hidden facets of his parents’ story.
In the three-book set, Bradt reproduces much of his father’s intimate narrative from the Pacific front and recounts his painful return home after a three-year deployment. The accounts reveal not only on-the-ground details of Pacific combat, but the tangled web of a mother’s heartbreaking sacrifice, a tragic suicide, and a family that was reshaped forever.
“Wilber’s letters form the backbone of the story,” notes Bradt. “His mailings to my mother, my sister and me, and to his parents, exhibit very different aspects of my father: the lover, the father, and the son. It’s real life, not always pretty but always hugely revealing.”
The wartime letters also offer a picture of Norma, Wilber’s wife, as a complex, if not uncontroversial, heroine. A military spouse plagued by her husband’s lengthy deployment, she faced immense personal struggles on the home front while attending to the needs of her family. How she chose to handle these challenges becomes a distinctive and irrevocable element in the Bradt family saga.
“The story of Wilber’s and Norma’s lives is told through selections from those letters and in roughly equal measure through context and interpretation provided by me,” Bradt explains. “My father’s writing is vividly descriptive, technically informative, poetic, romantic, sometimes racy, and also quite introspective.
“The letters provide us with an epic view of the entire Pacific war, from the battlefront to the home front. The story also illuminates early 20th century America and tracks my father’s transformation from chemist to soldier and his evolving mental states while overseas.”
[The Winding River article continues.]
About the author
Hale Bradt is a Korean War veteran and an astrophysicist retired from M.I.T. who once searched for black holes, but turned to searching for family and wartime history. He has been intrigued by the Bradt family story for more than three decades, interviewing relatives, academic and military colleagues, and a Japanese officer against whom his father fought in the Solomon Islands. His discovery of his father’s letters from the Pacific gave him an unusual basis for exploring new aspects of World War II history, as he scoured the National Archives and even visited the Pacific battle sites where his father fought; there, he found the artifacts and people his father had known and written about. As a history buff and one who remembers WWII, Bradt is well qualified to provide a new context about a country at war.
Information and graphics for this review were provided by Smith Publicity and the author. [www.SmithPublicity.com]
Bradt Family News, Fall 2015, P. 5
Hale Bradt (P. 568) writes us that he has finished his long awaited book on his father’s experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In fact, it is a trilogy! It is called Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II. Its publication date was, fittingly, V-J Day, August 14, 2015.
The trilogy tells the story of Hale’s parents, Wilber and Norma, from their youths in Indiana and Washington State respectively to Wilber’s academic career as a chemistry professor and then as an artillery officer during World War II with the New England National Guard (43rd Infantry Division) and Norma’s as an aspiring musician and writer.
Wilber was an artillery battalion commander as his division went into action in the Solomon Islands. He was wounded twice there, and earned the Silver Star three times in the Philippines. He would have participated in the invasion of Japan—a likely bloodbath—as commander of the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont (the 172nd Infantry Regiment). At war’s end his unit participated in the initial occupation of Japan. He returned to the USA with the 43rd Division after three full years overseas. Six weeks after returning home to his family in Washington, D.C., he took his own life.
Wilber was a compulsive and vivid letter writer. Fully half of the trilogy consists of his descriptive and insightful views of his surroundings and experiences. (The rest is context provided mostly by Hale.) He describes combat scenes that should have been censored, but he would delay mailing the account until it was allowed. It is a unique portrayal of the Pacific War, and it is an Army story, not the oft-told Marine and Navy stories.
During the war, Norma chose an independent path while managing her family of two children and providing long-distance support to Wilber. In so doing, she had to deal with a major personal crisis of her own. Her story is an important component of the trilogy.
The trilogy also describes Hale’s search into his parents’ stories. It was his discovery of a few of his dad’s letters in 1980 and finding how vividly descriptive they were that launched him into this project. He searched archives, interviewed participants and relatives, and even visited the Pacific battlefield sites.
Hale was motivated in part by Ken Bradt and Cynthia Brott in the early 1980s. “They put me in touch with the early colonial history of the Dutch settlers, which caused me to realize that learning how people lived in the past is a most rewarding aspect of genealogical research. It dawned on me that I alone could provide the family and military contexts to my father’s letters.” The trilogy contains many maps and photographs so one can follow the action in detail.
One can learn more about the trilogy at www.wilberswar.com. The print version of the trilogy is a beautifully designed set of three hardcover books in a slipcase replete with photographs, maps, and facsimiles—a collector’s item. It is fairly expensive ($125), but Bradt Family Society members can purchase it at 40% discount at $75 (Use discount code BFSWW on the above named website.) It is quite economical in digital (ebook) form: $25 for the three volumes.
On a recent visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX, Hale Bradt noted that among the 1000+ memorials on the memorial garden walls, there was none dedicated to the 43rd Division, the unit his father Wilber belonged to throughout the war, and so he commissioned a memorial to it. He also commissioned four small memorials to individual members of the 43rd, one of which was for Wilber. [Ed: See related story on page 5.]
A simple dedication service for the memorials took place at the museum on Saturday Aug. 15. It was followed by a presentation by Hale about Wilber’s experiences during the war and an unveiling of the plaques. A small group of about a dozen persons attended this impressive and moving ceremony.
About Families PA, Hooked on Books
WILBER’S WAR TRILOGY
by Hale Bradt
Hardcover $60.24 – Amazon
Van Dorn Books
“A father’s odyssey. A mother’s strength. A son’s story.
The trilogy, Wilber’s War, chronicles the story of two ordinary Americans, Wilber and Norma Bradt, during an extraordinary time, World War II. It offers fresh insight-on a deeply personal level-into the historic conflict as it was fought by the U.S. Army in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and The Philippines and by a family on the home front. It is an epic tale of duty, heroism, love, and human frailty. The story is told in large part in Wilber’s own words in a sensitive editing of his some 700 richly detailed wartime letters. ”
This is an unbelievably beautiful set of historical war books, that would be a great addition to any history buff’s personal library! With photographs, letters containing personal messages and insights, this is my top pick this month! (Note: I did discover varying prices, but found the biggest bang found on Amazon.com)
[reviewed by Mari Conners]
October 14, 2015
Daily Mail.com, UK
By LOUISE BOYLE
EXCLUSIVE: The WWII Army colonel who was wounded by Japanese bombs and earned three silver stars – but who turned his revolver on himself because of home front heartbreak revealed in his letters.
- Army Lieutenant Colonel Wilber E. Bradt shot himself in the heart two months after returning home to Washington DC from Pacific in 1945
- He had been awarded the Silver Star three times for his bravery in the South Pacific Area
- Bradt was commander of the 172nd Infantry regiment, known as the ‘Green Mountain Boys of Vermont’
- His son Hale, 84, has unraveled his father’s tragedy using his 700 wartime letters in his new book
[The following text by Louise Boyle is about 50% of the original article. The balance consists of quotations from Wilber’s letters and photographs from the trilogy.]
When Wilber E. Bradt walked back into his family’s life in October 1945, like millions of men, he returned a hero.
Lieutenant Colonel Bradt had led his men in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and the Philippines against the Japanese – and earned three Silver Stars.
Two months later he was dead: on December 1, Wilber shot himself in the heart with his .45 Colt service revolver.
For his young son Hale, 15, it was impossible to understand.
Now as the Greatest Generation begins to slip away, Hale has used his father’s remarkable 700 letters home as he led first Army artillery units, then the 172nd Infantry regiment, the ‘Green Mountain Boys of Vermont’ with distinction – and unraveled the family mystery which led to the officer’s death.
Hale Bradt’s new book Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II details one man’s war – and the very complicated aftermath it brought to his family.
JULY 5, 1943, BARABUNI ISLAND: ‘HELL, WE’RE SUNK!’
Wilber Bradt enlisted with the National Guard in 1921 while studying chemistry at Indiana University.
Two decades later, he was head of the University of Maine’s chemistry and chemical engineering department when he was called to active duty after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 brought the U.S. into the war.
At the time, Bradt was 41 and married to Norma with two young children, Hale and Valerie. He left for the Pacific conflict in October 1942 and from the outset was a diligent letter-writer. He managed to include detailed descriptions of battles by postponing mailing his letters until censorship rules permitted, typically 30 days after the action.
In the letter below he described the strange beauty of the bombs showering down on the Allies during a Japanese air force attack.
Wilber was wounded twice during the war. Hale, now 84, told Daily Mail Online: ‘My father was injured before he had seen one day of ground combat.
‘Several were killed and Wilber was wounded by a piece of shrapnel which became embedded in the bone of his eyebrow. But he kept going, he never quit.’
A week later, Wilber was shot, a bullet grazing his side. ‘He later found the bullet in the pocket of his pants,’ Hale said.
JULY 29, 1943: ‘IT’S A GOOD THING IT’S WARM HERE FOR WE ARE OFTEN SOAKED’
It took the 43rd Division a month of jungle combat to reach and capture Munda airfield in New Georgia and Wilber stayed at the front with the infantry most of that time.
Despite the terrible conditions and constant danger, he focused on lighter moments in a letter to his son in July 1943.
AUGUST 11, 1943: ‘I’VE BEEN A POOR SOUVENIR HUNTER BECAUSE OF A LACK OF INTEREST IN GOING THRU SOME DEAD JAP’S PERSONAL EFFECTS’
If Wilber shielded his children from the horrors of combat, he shared some harrowing details with Norma. In August 1943, he described his comrades scavenging for souvenirs among the belongings of dead Japanese soldiers.
OCTOBER 1942: ‘I’LL NEVER FORGET THE THRILL OF THAT NIGHT’
Prior to shipping out, Wilber wrote a poignant letter to his wife filled with intimate memories from the early days of their relationship.
The reality of his parents’ wartime experience was far more complicated, Hale believes, than their bundles of letters reveal.
He said: ‘My father had idealized my mother so much during the war. She was perfection to him. He wrote her the most beautiful poetry. When she was 80, she recalled that he could woo her most effectively by letter. And indeed he could.’
But as the letters sailed back and forth across the ocean, Wilber remained in blissful ignorance of his wife’s secret.
While her husband was on the front line, Norma had moved from the family’s home in Maine to New York City with her children and begun a romantic relationship with a journalist 12 years her senior.
‘They were two lonely people in New York,’ Hale said.
Monte, who was born in Lebanon before emigrating to the U.S., was supportive of Norma and her children during Wilber’s absence. But soon, she was faced with a personal crisis – she fell pregnant.
Hale said: ‘Norma kept her pregnancy a secret from Wilber in her letters. She kept it a secret from everyone.’
Hale believes his mother also showed incredible courage during the war. ‘Norma was the one left at home in the war. She was the one who dealt with finding schools for us, finding housing and managing the family finances.
‘She kept writing encouraging letters to Wilber and sending him goods he desired like spikes for his shoes and canned oysters. She did the same for Valerie and me the year we were in boarding schools. She never ceased being the dutiful wife and mother despite her troubles. She was fighting her own war in the United States.’
Norma had a daughter, Gale, in 1943. When she was almost two, Gale was finally introduced to Hale and his sister, Valerie.
‘We were told this was Monte’s child from a relationship with another woman to whom he had been briefly married,’ Hale said. He believes that his mother blamed herself for Wilber’s suicide for the rest of her life because of her affair.
‘I’m sure she considered it that she killed him with her transgression, and she wore the guilt all her life,’ he said.
OCTOBER 1945: ‘OUR LIVES WOULD BE HAPPIER WITH HIM BACK IN OUR MIDST
Hale recalled his father’s return in the book’s prologue: ‘Our lives would be happier, even joyous with him back in our midst. We did not go to the West Coast to meet his ship, on which he was the senior army officer, but a news photographer did and captured him on board the ship in a happy, smiling, perhaps even laughing moment.
‘Wilber reached our Washington, D.C., home in mid-October to a festive family-only homecoming; he seemed to Valerie and me to be the same daddy we had known so well before… We were becoming accustomed to being a family of four again, when there came a day that was to be – and remains – imprinted on our hearts and minds till the end of our days.’
Two months after his return, Wilber took his own life, leaving no note.
At the time he was in the basement of the family’s Washington D.C. home, sorting through war souvenirs for Christmas presents and chatting with his wife who was upstairs.
Hale recalled the devastating moment he learned of his father’s death:
‘At our front door, I encounter my Aunt Josephine and Uncle Paul, my father’s brother… They abruptly tell me I should go to our church and see the minister because he has something to tell me. And I should do this straight away.
‘The minister whom I know well through our youth group activities ushers me into his study and asks me to sit down. With little preliminary, he says: ‘I am sorry to tell you this, but your father is dead.”’
The coroner ruled Wilber’s death a suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The relationship between Norma and Wilber was strained when he returned from war, Hale said.
‘Things were tense between him and my mother after he returned home. She recalled that he slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow.’
On the day of his suicide, Wilber was battling the return of malaria symptoms and suffering on-going headaches from his shrapnel wound.
Hale said: ‘About a week before he died, my father had written to his brother saying how discouraged and tired he felt. But he wrote that he was improving and soon would be ready to look for a position of employment. His old job at the University of Maine awaited him, but he did not relish the cold climate there and felt that he had forgotten most of his chemistry.’
Hale also believes his father was burdened by what he had seen in combat.
‘Wilber’s letters didn’t wallow in the grisly details, they were very matter-of-fact,’ he said.
But Hale learned the harsh truths of his father’s life fighting in the Pacific while researching his book.
In New Guinea, where there were fewer casualties than on other front lines, Wilber lost two friends after a patrol went behind enemy lines and was hit by friendly fire.
Another of his friends, a young officer, and three of his men were crushed to death by a backing American tank during one attack.
Hale, a retired MIT astrophysics professor who served in the Navy during the Korean War, described the impact his father’s suicide has had on the rest of his life.
‘I was almost 15, so I remember his homecoming vividly,’ Hale said. ‘My father arrived on the Friday night and we went to a concert of renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler on the Sunday afternoon. That concert is a poignant father-son memory for me.’
As a teenager he blocked out the enormity of his father’s death.
‘My recollection was that I was just numb and proceeded on,’ Hale said. ‘My sister Valerie has told me since that she was worried about me taking my own life, because I just so uncommunicative.’
The 84-year-old admitted that it’s only recently he has been able to cry for his father’s death.
‘A few years ago, I was watching a Clint Eastwood’s movie, Letters From Iwo Jima, in a small theater. At the end of the film, the Japanese general kills himself with his personal .45 colt pistol, shooting himself in the chest,’ Hale recalled.
‘My father took his life with his personal .45 pistol, given to him by his National Guard comrades. The circumstances were remarkably similar to my father’s suicide and I found myself crying then and for about an hour after the movie.’
It wasn’t until 35 years after Wilber’s death that Hale began his epic project.
Hale said: ‘I was going to be Mr Detective. I was digging around in the basement and I found some 12 letters sent to me by my father. They were incredibly literate, and I thought ‘wow – this guy is some writer.’
‘The letters provide us with an epic view of the entire Pacific war. From the battlefront to the home front. The story also illuminates early 20th-century America and tracks my father’s transformation from chemist to soldier and his evolving mental states while overseas.
‘Searching out the story was a highly rewarding adventure that not infrequently turned dramatic.’
In the 1980s, Hale immersed himself in research, taking trips to his father’s former battlegrounds of the Solomon Islands and Luzon in the Philippines.
He also visited New Zealand where his father’s division spent time on rest and training.
‘I found a lady there, Olive, that he had liked very much,’ Hale said. ‘He met her only three times while touring New Zealand with another officer, and it never became a full-fledged affair.’
Wilber had written home to his wife Norma about Olive. Hale said: ‘In his letter to my mother, he was like a school boy clearing the air by telling all. But I found out later from Olive that he had given her a Lt. Col insignia, a very significant gift, which he didn’t mention to my mother.
‘Wilber wrote that he took Olive to the movies and bought her a corsage, which was enough for Norma to infer much more.
‘Olive heard about my father’s suicide and wrote to my mother about the pleasant times Wilber had had in her company. But she never heard back.’
While on an academic work trip to Japan, Hale tracked down a Japanese colonel in Kyushu, whom his father had fought against on Arundel Island, now Kohinggo, in the Solomons.
Several Japanese commanders on Arundel had been killed by Wilber’s artillery, including their revered regimental commander, a big loss for the Japanese. However one colonel whom his father believed was killed, Colonel Seishu Kinoshita, had actually survived.
Hale said: ‘On one memorable afternoon in Japan, on a visit to his home, Colonel Kinoshita told the whole story from his perspective.
‘He drew maps of the islands on big pieces of papers. When I left, we exchanged hugs. It was quite something.’
Hale’s mother Norma knew about her son’s project, providing him with much of the correspondence which formed the backbone of his book.
He said: ‘[My mother] was 75 years old when I got into this. She knew I was interested in Wilber’s story and gave me his letters.
‘The story of Wilber’s and Norma’s lives is told through selections from those letters and in roughly equal measure through context and interpretation provided by me.’
As Hale dug further into his parents’ story, his mother’s wartime affair with the family friend came to light. Hale said: ‘In the final years of my mother’s life, she found out we knew the story about her baby being born out of wedlock.
‘But it was heart-warming, she knew we still loved her. She was our mother, and we believed she had done noble things during the war.’
Hale set the project aside for many years, focusing on his family life. He has been married to wife Dorothy for almost 60 years and the couple has two married daughters, Dorothy and Elizabeth, and two grandchildren.
Around five years ago, Hale decided to turn his father’s letters into a book. ‘I’m a retired guy and I better have a project,’ he said.
Some family members remain reticent about Hale putting down his family’s complex story in print. His 72-year-old middle sister, who was fathered by the journalist during wartime, has been most supportive, Hale said.
‘I could not have done the book without her blessing.’ he said. ‘I dedicate the trilogy to Wilber and Norma, but also to her and my oldest sister Valerie because it is their story too.’
It is his eldest sister, Wilber’s daughter, Valerie, now 83, who is an ‘absolute fan’ of the book, Hale said.
‘She’s almost my age and was deeply impacted by my father’s suicide,’ Hale said. ‘But Valerie said simply, ‘Hale, you must do this – it’s everyone’s story.”
- The print trilogy, Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II, by Hale Bradt may be purchased at wilberswar.com at a 40 per cent discount by Daily Mail Online readers with discount code DMWW, (reducing the list price of $125 to $75). Ebooks are also available.
August 16, 2015
Pittsburg Tribune Review, p. D6
by Alan Wallace
“I uncovered a fresh and unique view of the Pacific war … as well as a complex story of an American family during the war.” [PROLOGUE TO “WILBER’S WAR”]
“Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II” by Hale Bradt (Van Dorn Books). Timed for the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, this three-volume box set of more than 1,000 pages illuminates personal family history, America’s home front and war against Japan, and the effects of what’s now known as post-traumatic stress disorder on soldiers and their loved ones. The author, a Korean War veteran of the Navy and retired MIT astrophysicist, worked for more than three de-cades on this project, drawing on about 700 letters that his father, Wilber Bradt — who took his own life just weeks after returning to America following Japan’s defeat — sent home while in the Army.
The book also draws on archival material; interviews with relatives, academics and military figures including a former Japanese officer against whom the author’s father fought; and visits to sites of Pacific Theater battles he took part in.
August 7, 2015
Princeton Alumni Weekly, The Weekly Blog
by Frans Hulette
In 1980, Hale Bradt ’52 began a decades-long project to learn about his family’s past after discovering the very personal letters his father, Wilber Bradt, wrote during World War II as a soldier in the Army’s 43rd Infantry Division.
The result is a trilogy titled Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey Through World War II that chronicles Bradt’s father’s experiences in the Pacific theater and the effects of the war on his family. Illustrated with news clips, family photos, maps, and letters, the self-published trilogy is being released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the war’s end on Aug. 14.
During his research, Bradt found some 700 letters by his father, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and was a professor at the University of Maine before the war. Bradt, a professor of physics emeritus at MIT and the author of two textbooks on astrophysics, studied documents in archives and talked to veterans and family members who had been mentioned in the letters. Much of the research was done in the early 1980s, when contemporaries of his father were still alive. Bradt also traveled to the Pacific battlefields — the Solomon Islands and the Philippines — and interviewed a Japanese colonel.
Wilber’s letters offer a picture of his wife, Norma, and her struggles at home, which included hiding a pregnancy from her family. The letters track the couple’s relationship during Wilber’s three-year deployment, his difficult return home, and, tragically, his suicide at the end of the war. “Seeking out the story behind the story in my parents’ lives and of incidents in the Pacific was absolutely fascinating to me,” Bradt says. “I have gotten to know my parents much better than most of us ever do.”
August 6, 2015
Belmont (MA) Citizen Herald, Sect. 1, p. 1
Letters found in basement offer insight
Belmont (MA) Citizen Herald, August 6, 2014, Sect. 1, Page 1
After a family related argument with his half sister on his 50th birthday, former Belmont resident Hale Bradt ventured into the depths of his Clover Street house, searching his basement for old letters his mother Norma had stashed away for safekeeping.
Coming across 10 letters in an old filing cabinet from his father Wilber Bradt, a battalion commander from World War II who sent the letters while fighting in the Pacific, Bradt became enraptured. “Reading the letters on the basement floor of my unfinished Belmont basement, I was practically in tears,” Bradt said. “I met with my sister the next morning and told her I had to go after the letters.”
The former physics professor and Town Meeting member would eventually track down more than 700 letters his father sent from the Pacific, gaining insight on his family’s wartime legacy he could have never imagined.Now, in his 80s, Bradt is ready to share his story with the world.On Aug. 14, Hale will release an 1,100-page, self-published trilogy called “Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II,” written around the roughly 750 letters his father sent his family while in the Pacific. Additionally, the three books contain 314 illustrations, including old war pictures, menus from ships and detailed maps.
The trilogy is a tale that details the early lives of Bradt’s parents, Wilber Bradt’s time in the Pacific and Bradt’s family at home during the war, all leading up to Norma’s infidelity and Wilber’s suicide that would transform his family forever.“ The book shows what life was really like in the Army through the whole Pacific area – the quiet, recreational and shooting periods,” said Bradt. “The other major point is the human story of a husband and wife and what the war did and what it meant to them and what it was like for them.
”Through the letters, Bradt saw an entirely new side to his parents.“I was able to read them (the letters) with more insight and broader knowledge of family issues,” he said. “I was able to see his (Wilber’s) agony and uncertainty when mother’s letters weren’t satisfying him. I could see the drama more clearly.
”After reading the letters, Bradt did research in the National Archives and traveled to the Pacific in the 1980s, where he used the letters to track down people his father came across in World War II. Bradt ran into a woman from New Zealand that Wilber had expressed great affection for in letters, and also a Japanese battalion commander Wilber fought against.
Bradt was even able to go through the diary of former Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and find the entry of the exact day Wilber wrote of meeting him.But despite all of the knowledge about Wilber, Bradt said the letters especially helped show how much of a heroine Norma was. While his father was off, Norma took care of the family, said Bradt, even while going through a personal crisis in which she was unfaithful. “She plugged along and raised her four kids,” he said.
The knowledge from the letters helped Bradt gain closure on his family and understand what they went through, a hardship that was reality for many families during World War II.“It’s really a wonderful story that applies to a lot of people now,” said Bradt.“Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II” can be purchased on amazon.com or wilberswar.com.
August 3 and 14, 2015
Salem (MA) Gazette, August 14, 2015
also: Insights: blog of Shelley A Sackett, August 3
by Shelley A. Sackett.
Hale Bradt, 84, was 14 years old on August 14, 1945 – the day the White House announced the end of World War II. His father, Wilber Bradt, had shipped out to the Western Pacific on October 1, 1942, with New England’s 43rd Infantry Division.
Wilber had left an Army soldier—a captain—in the field artillery and would return as a lieutenant colonel and regimental commander of the 172nd Infantry Regiment, the famed Green Mountain Boys of Vermont. He had been wounded twice and was awarded three Silver Stars for personal bravery. Hale couldn’t wait to see his dad.
On December 1 – 108 days after VJ Day – Wilber took his own life. He was 45 years old.
Hale went on to serve in the Korean War in the U.S. Naval Reserve and became a Physics Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although he remembered his dad, they were the memories of a 14-year-old that became more distant with each passing decade. All that would change on his 50th birthday in 1980.
Prompted by an argument with one of his sisters, he went to his family home and rummaged through old documents in the basement that might shed light on her paternity. He found a cache of letters from his father – written before and during the war – that would alter the trajectory of his life and add an intimate layer to the story of America’s involvement in World War II and the effect it had on the soldiers who served and the families they left behind.
Those letters, plus additional context and interpretation by Hale, resulted in the handsome three-volume set, Wilber’s War, An American Family’s Journey through World War II, recently published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of V-J Day on August 14.
Speaking to The Salem Gazette from his home in Salem, Hale described finding 12 letters addressed to him as the ‘a-ha!’ moment when he knew he had to share his family’s private story with the public.
“They were so fatherly and well-written and descriptive. I found a guy who could really write. As a 50-year-old, I knew what good writing was. As a 12-year-old, I didn’t,” he said.
Wilber’s wartime letters to his wife, children and other family members first and foremost provide a rare peek at the stark reality of WWII combat in the Pacific Theater. “His letters are special because they are contemporaneous,” Hale explained. “A lot of the war stories are reconstructed after it’s over. Some of these were written in the foxhole in pencil.”
They are also unique because they tell the story of an Army soldier. “Most of the stories of the Pacific War are about the Marines and the Navy,” Hale said.
He spent the next three decades interviewing relatives, academic and military colleagues. During his M.I.T. sabbatical in Japan in 1983, he visited the beach Wilber where Wilber would have landed had the war not ended when it did. He even met Col. Seishu Kinoshita, the Japanese battalion commander Wilber mentioned in his letters about combat in the Solomon Islands, a fascinating tale he recounts in detail.
However, it was not just the combat stories that propelled Hale to undertake a decades-long journey to learn more about his father and his family; he also uncovered the narrative of Norma, Wilber’s wife and Hale’s mother, that illustrated the serious challenges faced by the military spouse during a long deployment.
No stranger to the world of writing (he authored two textbooks on astrophysics), Hale learned first-hand how complicated the publishing side is when he decided to self-publish Wilber’s War after a couple of attempts to get an agent. He whittled down Wilber’s letters from 450,000 to 150,000 words and authored an equal amount of annotation and text. The fascinating book is chockfull of pictures, charts, maps and historical documents. “I’m a little embarrassed by the three volumes. I’ve constantly told my students, ‘You can always say things shorter,’” he said with a chuckle.
On a more serious note, Hale said that although soldiers today serve a different type of deployment than in his father’s day (three sequential deployments rather than one long one that lasted three years, for example), the story of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is the same. “They’ve known about PTSD since the World War I and earlier. Everyone is vulnerable.”
Hale credits his older sister Valerie with encouraging him to write Wilber’s War even though she knew other family members might object. “She said, ‘Hale. You’ve got to tell this story. It’s everybody’s story.” The rest, as they say, is history.
For more information or to order “Wilber’s War”, go to.
July 28, 2015
Salem MA Patch
Hale Bradt will be launching the release of his latest book on family and world history at the Salem Athenaeum on Wednesday evening.
By ADAM SWIFT (Patch Staff), Salem MA Patch July 28, 2015
Local author Hale Bradt brings a powerful and personal story about family and World War II to the Salem Athenaeum on Wednesday evening.
Bradt is launching the release of his new book Wilber’s War, An American Family’s Journey through World War II, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Athenaeum. The event is free to the public. Wilber’s War, tells the story of Bradt’s parents, Wilber and Norma Bradt, and their time during World War II. The story offers fresh insight, on a deeply personal level, into World War II as it was fought by the U.S. Army in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and the Philippines.
On his 50th birthday, Hale Bradt made a discovery that would not only change his own life but would further enrich the American story of World War II. Prompted by an argument with one of his sisters, he unearthed long-forgotten letters written by his father, Wilber, while Wilber served in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Stunned by their power and insight, Bradt began a decades-long journey to learn more about his father and his family’s past, unlocking stories that thrust him into a saga of heroism and heart-wrenching drama.
In the three-book set, Wilber’s War, An American Family’s Journey through World War II, Bradt reproduces much of his father’s intimate narrative from the Pacific front and recounts his painful return home after a three-year deployment. The accounts reveal not only on-the-ground details of Pacific combat, but the tangled web of a mother’s heartbreaking sacrifice, a tragic suicide, and a family that was reshaped forever.
“Wilber’s letters form the backbone of the story,” notes Bradt. “His mailings to my mother, my sister and me, and to his parents, exhibit very different aspects of my father: the lover, the father, and the son. It’s real life, not always pretty but always hugely revealing.” The wartime letters also offer a picture of Norma, Wilber’s wife, as a complex, if not uncontroversial, heroine. A military spouse plagued by her husband’s lengthy deployment, she faced personal struggles on the home front while attending to the needs of her family. How she chose to handle these challenges becomes a distinctive and irrevocable element in the Bradt family saga.
“The story of Wilber’s and Norma’s lives is told through selections from those letters and in roughly equal measure through context and interpretation provided by me,” Bradt explains. “My father’s writing is vividly descriptive, technically informative, poetic, romantic, sometimes racy, and also quite introspective.”
Hale Bradt is a Korean War veteran and an astrophysicist retired from M.I.T. who once searched for black holes, but turned to searching for family and wartime history. He has been intrigued by the Bradt family story for more than three decades, interviewing relatives, academic and military colleagues, and a Japanese officer against whom his father fought in the Solomon Islands.