Omar Bradley was a country boy, born in Clark, Missouri February 12, 1893. His family was very poor, but grounded in the value of hard work, God, education and being able to care of yourself. After high school he began working for the railroad, and he did not give military service a second thought until his Sunday school teacher told him that he may qualify for an appointment to West Point.
Bradley was quick to act and applied, receiving an appointment to the military academy in 1911. He graduated in 1915, which became known as “the class the stars fell on” because over a third of the class became generals. Bradley was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and continued as a student at Infantry School in Fort Benning, the Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College. He subsequently taught at West Point under Douglas MacArthur, who was the superintendent at the time, and at the Infantry School, where he served under George C. Marshall. Bradley did not see combat until 1943, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when he led the American II Corps against Axis Forces in North Africa and occupied Sicily. Bradley’s campaign was successful, and he was promoted to lieutenant-general.
In 1944, Bradley was one of the most senior commanders of the Normandy campaign. Serving as part of General George S. Patton’s Seventh Army, he led the American First Army and the 12th Army Group in the final campaigns of World War II. Dwight D. Eisenhower, with whom he graduated from West Point, as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, was the only one who had seniority to Bradley on the ground. The success of the Americans in the drive from Normandy to Germany gained Bradley further recognition, and he was promoted to the rank of full general, the first in his class.
Bradley went on to be head of the Veterans Administration, and then chief of staff of the American Army until 1949, when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 1950, Bradley was appointed General of the Army until he retired in 1953. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle was named in honor of General Bradley.
Omar Bradley died in April 1981 aged 88, the last of the five-star generals. He left behind an incredibly distinguished legacy, evident in many quotes recorded in history. Below are seven of my favorites.
#7 “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”
Omar Bradley was very wise, and while he was an honorable soldier, his heart was grounded in peace first. He witnessed astounding developments in wartime technology, and feared that the world was not ready to bear the responsibility of holding the power of vast destruction in its hands.
#6 “Dependability, integrity, the characteristic of never knowingly doing anything wrong, that you would never cheat anyone, that you would give everybody a fair deal. Character is a sort of an all-inclusive thing. If a man has character, everyone has confidence in him.”
#5 “The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.”
Again, his drive for peaceful resolution is evident in this quote. Bradley respected the gravity of war, and viewed it as a last resort.
#4 “Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”
I was struck by this quote for its wisdom of long term commitment, not instant gratification, as well as understanding the importance of weighing the consequences when making decisions.
#3 “In war there is no second prize for the runner-up.”
That pretty much says it all. You either win the war, or you are the loser.
#2 “Wars can be prevented just as surely as they can be provoked, and we who fail to prevent them must share in the guilt for the dead.”
Bradley’s appreciation for the consequences of war are evident, and was clear that war should never be a first resort. As a soldier, he carried a burden on his shoulders of lives ending, possibly his own soldiers as well as citizens of other countries, as a result of decisions he and others made.
#1 “I learned that good judgment comes from experience and that experience grows out of mistakes.”
Too many people do not seem to learn from their mistakes; however, Bradley was one to not only admit them, but learn and grow from them as well.
General Omar Bradley was not the charismatic character that other military leaders; however, he was one of the most masterful and the most honorable. Through careful study at West Point and beyond, he was an expert on tactics, fire, movement and terrain, and had a respect for life beyond the average person’s capacity. I would love to hear your thoughts on General Omar Bradley in the comments below.