Larry Bradford reflects on his combat in WWII, which took him from Normandy to well into Germany. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Locals to be spotlighted in new TV series

ASHLAND — Larry Bradford remembers smiling that June day in 1944 when he received a letter instructing him to immediately report to the draft board in Cincinnati.

"That sounded just fine to me," recalled the Ashland resident. "I called up the colonel and told him I had to go to Cincinatti. He told me to stay where I was. He didn't have a sense of humor."

Bradford, now 87, was already in the uniform of a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army's 83rd Infantry Division, 324th Field Artillery Battalion. The officer was in a foxhole in Normandy with World War II raging about him as Allied troops pushed toward Germany.

He is one of five local residents who will be featured beginning tonight in a Southern Oregon Public Television special "Southern Oregon Stories: The War."

The local show will air directly after episodes in the 14-hour series "THE WAR" by Ken Burns, with the first episode beginning at 8 tonight. The remaining episodes of the national series will be held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, resuming on Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.

The seven-part documentary, directed and produced by Burns and Lynn Novick, looks at the history and horror of the war from an American perspective. It focuses on GIs and the families from four towns: Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif. and Luverne, Minn.

"Back in those days, we were all in the war in some fashion," said Bradford, an economics and history major at Washington and Lee College in Virginia who volunteered after graduating in 1942. "And we were all for it. We weren't divided like we are now."

Ouida, his wife of 65 years, agreed. When he was overseas, she and their then infant son, Larry III, stayed with her parents in Memphis, Tenn.

"At that age, I had a real positive viewpoint," she said. "I did volunteer work as a nurse's aid. We were totally committed to the war, the whole nation."

Times were tight. Sugar and coffee were rare.

"My mother made soap," she said. "She saved all the fat and boiled it. She had a little chemical laboratory going on in the kitchen. But everybody did things like that."

Her husband, who was 24 years old in Normandy, was older than most he served with.

"Yeah, they called me the old man," he said, adding, "I wonder what they would call me now."

He and his battery of 52 men with their 155 mm howitzers would fight in five major battles. When the war ended, they had just crossed the Elbe River and were closing in on Berlin. It was there they met ragged Russian soldiers coming from the east.

"We were the only American division that cross the Elbe," said Bradford who retired after a career in the valve industry.

He landed at Normandy aboard an LCT (landing craft tank) 10 days after June 6, 1944, the initial landing on D-Day.

The ship lost both engines and its anchors in the rough seas. When they finally beached, Bradford insisted that his howitzers be unloaded before the captain sailed back to England. But the captain refused, and drew a pistol on Bradford to make his point.

"One of my sergeants came up and put a gun in his back and took his gun away," Bradford said."We locked him into the engine room and got our stuff off."

The soldiers freed the captain before they marched inland, he added.

July 4 found them battling for their lives. The division had 1,710 casualties on that day.

"We were in the hedgerows then, fighting it out," he said of the battle at Carentan and St. Mere-Eglise. "We lost so many men. We were fighting an entire (German) SS division."

Saturation bombing by Allied planes allowed the 83rd Division to break out, moving on into France. Their second battle star came from capturing Brittany.

The third battle star was earned in the Rhineland, followed by the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. Fifth was the battle for central Europe.

"I was very fortunate — I was never hit," said the officer who received a Bronze Star for meritorious service during combat.

He paused for a moment to think about the ferocious battle that winter in Belgium.

"The only good thing about it was the dead didn't smell," he said. "They were frozen stiff. In Normandy, there was so many dead, along with the dead cows, that the stench was sickening. Just awful."

At one point, his division captured about 20,000 German troops.

"We sped across Germany," he said. "When we came to a town and they had white sheets hanging out the windows, we went on by. But if they fired at us, we would blow the town away."

When he first crossed the Elbe River in April of 1945, a sign declared it the Franklin D. Roosevelt Bridge.

"The next morning I went across and it said the Harry S. Truman Bridge — that's how I found out Roosevelt had died," he said.

As the Americans withdrew back across the Elbe, a woman with a young child begged the Americans to take them.

"She convinced me what the Russians were going to do to her," he said. "The men and I got together and decided to put her in a kitchen truck. We let her out in the American zone."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at

Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect name for Janet Loper Nelson's high school. This version has been corrected.

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