* INTRODUCTION 

 

 AN AFTERNOON WITH
CHARLIE BRADFORD 
 

 - JOHN LINDGREN - 

 

Almost as soon as I got back from Nova Scotia, I called Charlie Bradford, the old 2nd Battalion surgeon, from my cousin's Watertown Massachusetts house on Standish Road [the next street west is Bradford Road named for one of Doc's forebears who have been in the state for some time.] 

"Is Doc Bradford there?" I ask.  

I am astounded that the great man himself has answered the phone. I would learn later, he doesn't like to be called Doc, he prefers Charlie.  We make some small talk then he tells me we must get together at the Harvard Club.  I am pleased he seems anxious to see me.  I hadn't expected this after hearing so many stories;  he wants to be left alone, no visitors, he's not well,  he has no time for the 503rd reunions and the rest. 

He sounds enthusiastic about our meeting, "We'll have lunch there!" We arrange it for Friday but there is a small problem, he either doesn't drive or he doesn't have a car, I think he neither has a car nor does he drive. 

"I'll try to arrange a ride and call you back," he tells me. 

I hadn't known quite what to expect when I called. My friend, Bill Calhoun and I, two highly respected handwriting analysts, had Charley on his last legs after viewing a fairly long letter he had written me in a shaky spidery scrawl. I really hadn't had a letter from him since then for some time although I always can count on a Christmas card with a brief message. Long ago he used to send his holiday greeting on a physician's prescription blank, prescribing good cheer etc. His voice sounds strong and vibrant during our short conversation, I am happily surprised he has been snatched from the jaws of death, a remarkably speedy recovery in view of Calhoun 's and my own gloomy diagnosis of his handwriting. He has clearly glowing with energy and enthusiasm. 

He calls me back. He has a ride and I get detailed instructions on how to get to his club. It's not all that difficult; go to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue [known to the locals as Massav] and Commonwealth Avenue [known to the locals as Commonwealth Avenue]. You can't miss it. 

It's Friday and I am in my seersucker suit wearing my best four-in-hand tie. I had wanted to wear my bow tie, my daughter Yvonne had given me this past father's day but after several tries it didn't seem to tie too well.  Doc had warned me, "You can't get in club without a tie. If you haven't got one we can get one there." He must have a low opinion of Californian's dress standards and I can't really fault him for that. 

 I am there in no time from Watertown. I park my stylish green rented Dodge Shadow and put two hours worth of coins in the meter. Plenty of time, Doc's benefactor has to return to Marshfield at one thirty and it is now nearly noon . I have been warned several times of the harsh treatment at the hands of the meter maids given parking offenders in Boston

As I walked along Commonwealth Avenue it reminded me somehow of Amsterdam . The street is divided in the middle by a wide green swath [where the canal should be] planted with huge graceful maples; the club building faces this handsome street. On either side, large expensive looking old apartments face the mall. I have yet to see a stroller or a child or a nanny. I think to myself the YUPPIES must have given this section a miss or perhaps these houses aren't as expensive as they look. I look across Massav and head for a large building with two flags displayed high above the entrance. The Stars and Stripes above all, and beneath it,  a large blue Harvard Club flag, that turns slowly in a gentle breeze. 

I had been here before in 1947 with Jack Mara, an old D Company comrade and another time, just after the war, with my cousin. That was a long time ago and nothing is as I remembered it. I don't recognize a thing. 

Entering the lobby, I go past the bar into a  spacious lounge but Charley isn't there.  In fact, no one is there. I look at the magazines piled on a large table to see if they have the New Yorker there with son John's poem in, but there are no New Yorker magazines at all.  I look in a huge empty main dining room, obviously closed for lunch.  I go back towards a second smaller dining room and look in another smaller lounge. I recognize Charley at once.

 There he is sitting in chair, a pair of crutches leaning on a pillar beside him. He's wearing a bow tie and a Brooks Brothers Madras shirt. He kind of tilts back his head looking through his glasses at me, exactly as I remembered him.  He's a big man and looks exceptionally fit and trim as he gets up from his chair and we shake hands. He tells me severe arthritis has slowed him and he must walk with crutches. He suggests we go into the bar where he orders a Bristol Cream Sherry and I have one too. Something new! Everybody knows Doc Bradford never touched alcohol. 

I carry the drinks while Charlie moves on his crutches to the dining room. A waitress named Mary serves us. I haven't remembered much else but she looks familiar. They are apparently old friends and exchange pleasantries. Listening to their conversation I have the idea Charlie hasn't been at the club for a while. We order, or rather Doc does. I suggested baked scrod but he nips that in the bud forthwith, "It's no good. You wouldn't like it. We'll have the chicken," he tells Mary. 

He is in fine spirits. The customers in the small dining room are almost exclusively thin old ladies.  Aside from us, there is one other man eating there. As I sip my sherry, I look out the window at the bright sun and the maple trees.  I feel very good being here with Doc. We sit and he opens the proceedings and sets the agenda, so to speak. "I never get to talk to people about the 503rd. Unless they were there, who could I tell all this to? They'd never know what I'm talking about." 

He starts on his subject right away by taking a few shots at some traditional regimental whipping boys. The infamous disagreeable G, "wasn't a bad sort really," he tells me, "he simply behaved badly."  He plows no new ground here as he ticks off the man's shortcomings.  I listen saying very little. 

He sent a couple of rounds J's way. Nothing new here either. 

It's been fifty years since R avoided hazardous duty because of bad knees, but Charlie is as incensed by the improper conduct as if it had happened yesterday. Doc has little use for any of these scoundrels and malingerers. 

After he was through castigating these rascals I brought up M's return to the states from Noemfoor under a cloud so to speak, but Doc had somehow granted M absolution for his sins and I supposed it must be accepted by all as an act of faith.  I didn't quite understand how M had behaved differently in such a way to be forgiven by Charlie for his [in my eyes] disgraceful conduct.  Charlie explained it this way, "M was a brave man who didn't fear combat.  He simply wanted to go home, pulled a few strings and left." I don't quite understand his train of thought here, but I hold my tongue.  How Doc could admire this man, a known malingerer, who purposely banged at his knee causing it to swell and then conspired with a physician to get a ticket home, is far beyond me. I don't ask the hard questions and thankfully we go to a new subject. 

It is obvious he has given careful consideration to all of this and the thoughts pour out to his audience of one who can understand what he is saying.  He lashes out at a few more who are guilty of certain lapses who probably will never be quite forgiven but these are minor offenders, misdemeanour cases. These people are those who stay at the command post and don't bother to visit the troops or are out taking pictures when they should be taking care of their men. He has hundreds of stories that he heard right from the horse's mouth so to speak as he questioned the wounded coming to his dispensary for treatment. 

He wrote down these stories that are found in an unpublished manuscript called "Combat Over Corregidor." 

He talks of the 2nd Battalion heroes and the surgeon, of course, is one of them. He would join combat patrols whenever he could, which was often enough, to be where the action was. Charlie was the first person I saw coming through to the company after a bloody night battle. He got the Silver Star for his trouble. 

The 503rd was not known for rewarding its heroes and only the most extraordinary feats of arms were recognized.  Little Joe Whitson earned the Distinguished Service Cross for conspicuous bravery on Corregidor perhaps the bravest of the brave in Charlie's eyes. They knew each other well and Doc admired this officer twenty years his junior.  He told of Frank Keller, a D Company paratrooper who stayed for two days with a wounded comrade in a ravine  crawling with the enemy. 

He was proud of his medics as well he should be. Jack Bowers, his senior medical enlisted man was sort of a rogue, but a brave and able man. Bowers was wounded along with B at the mouth of Corregidor 's Cheney Ravine.  Bowers attended B although painfully wounded himself.  B's wounds were [according to Charlie] superficial but he left never to return to his rifle company.  B's conduct displeases Doc particularly since he was a graduate of a highly respected southern military school "who should have behaved better."

John Prendergast was a tough Irishman and brave as a lion but in other ways not entirely scrupulous.  Charley Leabhart was a first class medic and creator of one of Doc's favorite puns, "It gets Corrugguder and Corrugguder."

 We have, as he promised at the outset, spoken of nothing else but the war and the regiment. Perhaps he is writing his memoirs, who knows?  He talks of his family a little. I mention my grandfather was a great admirer of Teddy Roosevelt. "My father was a very good friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He was at our home quite often."  Roosevelt died in 1919 and Doc [born in 1905] would certainly be old enough to remember Roosevelt when he visited. 

 I was told by others, that President Franklin Roosevelt had seen to it that Doc was returned from London when the US entered the war. He was a volunteer physician there helping the British war effort.  I told him I thought the story true. Charlie laughs and tells me, "It's a great story but not a word of truth in it." 

He asks me if I knew his brother was governor of Massachusetts at one time. I told him I knew that. He obviously is enjoying himself telling his stories to one of his old comrades in arms.  His comrade in arms, hanging on his every word, is enjoying the afternoon immensely as well. Charlie is right, the only people you can talk to about these things, are those who were there. His Harvard Club number is 883 and he explains to me he has finally reached his club number 88. He is bright and sharp and I enjoy every minute listening to him. 

I am startled when he blurts out at one point, "I don't think I am of much use to anyone now and am ready to die." I tell him he looks like he is in good health and what's the rush. I wish I had remembered it at the time and I would have given him Mr. Maugham's admonition to a friend. "Death is a dreary business, I advise you to have nothing to do with it." We go out in the lobby, Doc is moving along on his crutches and we sit down and talk some more in the leather easy chairs. 

We're not there too long when two pretty young girls, perhaps six or seven years old, come up to us. These are the daughters of Charlie's friend who has driven him here from Marshfield.  She has remained in the car parked in front of the club to fight off meter maids. We say goodbye. I walk out to the station wagon and Charlie and I say goodbye again. 

He is grinning broadly and looks at me through his glasses with his face raised up ever so slightly and I suddenly see him slowly lumbering toward our position like a big bear, the first man to reach us that February morning after D Company's bloody fight at Wheeler Point. 

It has been a beautiful afternoon. I think Charlie had a good time too. The station wagon pulls away from the curb. I look at my watch and my heart sinks. It is nearly three-thirty and the rental Shadow has surely been towed. We had been talking for a long time.

 

 

Combat Over Corregidor appears as a joint project of The 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team Association of World War II Inc., and the Heritage Bn.  We are privately supported by The Corregidor Historic Society and a group of like-minded individuals. Join us and make sure that we'll be here the next time you are.

Combat Over Corregidor 2002 The Charles H. Bradford Estate;