AN AFTERNOON WITH
- JOHN LINDGREN -
Almost as soon as I got back from
"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
"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
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
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
As I walked along
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
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
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
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
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
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."
I was told by others, that President Franklin Roosevelt had seen to it
that Doc was returned from
He asks me if I knew his brother was governor of
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
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.
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Combat Over Corregidor © 2002 The Charles H.