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General of the Army Omar Nelson Bradley (February 12, 1893 – April 8, 1981) was one of the main U.S. Army field commanders in North Africa and Europe during World War II and a General of the Army in the United States Army. He was the last surviving five-star commissioned officer of the United States and the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Early life and career

Bradley at West Point

Bradley, the son of a schoolteacher, was born into a poor family near Clark, Missourimarker. He attended Higbee Elementary School and graduated from Moberlymarker High School. Bradley intended to enter the University of Missourimarker in Columbia, Missourimarker. Instead, he was advised to try for West Pointmarker. He placed first in his district placement exams and entered the academy in 1911. While at West Point, General Bradley joined the local Masonic Lodge in Highland Falls, New York.

Bradley lettered in baseball three times, including on the 1914 team, where every player remaining in the army became a general. He graduated from West Point in 1915 as part of a class that contained many future generals, and which military historians have called "the class the stars fell on". There were ultimately 59 generals in that graduating class, with Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower attaining the rank of General of the Army.

Bradley was commissioned into the Infantry and was first assigned to the 14th Infantry Regiment, but like many of his peers, did not see action in Europe. Instead, he held a variety of stateside assignments. He served on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1915. When war was declared, he was promoted to captain, but was posted to the Butte, Montanamarker copper mines. He courted and later married Mary Elizabeth Quayle on December 28, 1916. Bradley joined the 19th Infantry Division in August 1918, which was scheduled for European deployment, but the influenza pandemic and the armistice prevented it.

Between the wars, he taught and studied. From 1920–24, he taught mathematics at West Point. He was promoted to major in 1924 and took the advanced infantry course at Fort Benning, Georgiamarker. After a brief service in Hawaiimarker, he studied at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworthmarker in 1928–29. From 1929, he taught at West Point again, taking a break to study at the Army War Collegemarker in 1934. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936 and worked at the War Department directly under Army Chief of Staff George Marshall from 1938. In February 1941, he was promoted to brigadier general (bypassing the rank of colonel) and sent to command Fort Benning (the first from his class to become a general officer). In February 1942, he took command of the 82nd Infantry Division before being switched to the 28th Infantry Division in June.

World War II

Bradley did not receive a front-line command until early 1943, after Operation Torchmarker. He had been given VIII Corps, but instead was sent to North Africa to be Eisenhower's front-line troubleshooter. At Bradley's suggestion, II Corps, which had just suffered the devastating loss at the Kasserine Passmarker, was overhauled from top to bottom, and Eisenhower installed George S. Patton as corps commander. Patton requested Bradley as his deputy, but Bradley retained the right to represent Eisenhower as well.

Bradley succeeded Patton as head of II Corps in April and directed it in the final Tunisian battles of April and May. He then led his corps, by then the only corps in Patton's 7th Army, on to Sicily in July.

In the approach to D-Day, Bradley was chosen to command the substantial US 1st Army, which alongside the British Second Army made up General Montgomery's 21st Army Group. Bradley undertook detailed planning for Omaha Beachmarker at his headquarters at Clifton Collegemarker, Bristolmarker, England. He embarked for Normandy from Portsmouth aboard the heavy cruiser . During the bombardment on D-day, Bradley worked in a steel command cabin built for him on the deck of the Augusta, by , the walls dominated by Michelin motoring maps of France, a few pin-ups and large scale maps of Normandy. A row of clerks sat at typewriters along one wall, while Bradley and his personal staff clustered around the large plotting table in the center. Much of that morning, however, Bradley stood on the bridge standing next to Task Force Commander Admiral Alan G. Kirk, observing the landings through binoculars, his ears plugged with cotton to muffle the blast of the cruiser's guns.

On 10 June, General Bradley and his staff debarked to establish a headquarters ashore. During Operation Overlord, he commanded three corps directed at the two American invasion targets, Utah Beachmarker and Omaha Beach. Later in July, he planned Operation Cobra, the beginning of the breakout from the Normandy beachhead. As the build-up continued in Normandy, the 3rd Army was formed under Patton, Bradley's former commander, while General Hodges succeeded Bradley in command of the 1st Army; together, they made up Bradley's new command, the 12th Army Group. By August, the 12th Army Group had swollen to over 900,000 men and ultimately consisted of four field armies. It was the largest group of American soldiers to ever serve under one field commander.

Unlike some of the more colorful generals of World War II, Bradley was a polite and courteous man. First favorably brought to public attention by war correspondent Ernie Pyle, he was informally known as "the soldier's general". Will Lang Jr. of Life magazine said "The thing I most admire about Omar Bradley is his gentleness. He was never known to issue an order to anybody of any rank without saying 'Please' first."

Bradley has a reputation today as a general who was very patient with the officers under his command, compared to his most famous colleague, George S. Patton, but the truth is far more complicated. Bradley sacked more than a dozen generals during World War II with little provocation, whereas Patton actually fired only one general during the entire war, Orlando Ward, and only after repeated warnings.

After the German attempt to split the US armies at Mortainmarker (Operation Lüttich), Bradley's Army Group formed the southern pincer in the forming Falaise pocketmarker, trapping the German Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army in Normandy. Although only partially successful, it inflicted huge losses on the German forces during their retreat.

The American forces reached the 'Siegfried Line' or 'Westwall' in late September. The success of the advance had taken the Allied high command by surprise. They had expected the German Wehrmacht to make stands on the natural defensive lines provided by the French rivers, and consequently, logistics became a severe problem.

At this time, the Allied high command under Eisenhower faced a decision on strategy. Bradley favored an advance into the Saarlandmarker, or possibly a two-thrust assault on both the Saarland and the Ruhr Area. Newly promoted to Field Marshal, Bernard Montgomery (British Army) argued for a narrow thrust across the Lower Rhine, preferably with all Allied ground forces under his personal command as they had been in the early months of the Normandy campaign, into the open country beyond and then to the northern flank into the Ruhr, thus avoiding the Siegfried Line. Although Montgomery was not permitted to launch an offensive on the scale he had wanted, George Marshall and Hap Arnold were eager to use the First Allied Airborne Army to cross the Rhine, so Eisenhower agreed to Operation Market-Garden. The debate led to a serious rift between the two Army group commanders of the European Theater of Operations. Bradley bitterly protested to Eisenhower the priority of supplies given to Montgomery, but Eisenhower, mindful of British public opinion, held Bradley's protests in check.

Bradley's Army Group now covered a very wide front in hilly country, from the Netherlandsmarker to Lorrainemarker and, despite his being the largest Allied army group, there were difficulties in prosecuting a successful broad-front offensive in difficult country with a skilled enemy that was recovering its balance. Courtney Hodges' 1st Army hit difficulties in the Aachenmarker Gap, and the Battle of Hurtgen Forestmarker cost 24,000 casualties. Further south, Patton's 3rd Army lost momentum as German resistance stiffened around Metzmarker's extensive defences. While Bradley focused on these two campaigns, the Germans had assembled troops and materiel for a surprise offensive.

Bradley's command took the initial brunt of what would become the Battle of the Bulge. Over Bradley's protests, for logistical reasons, the 1st Army was once again placed under the temporary command of Field-Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group. In a move without precedent in modern warfare, the US 3rd Army under Patton disengaged from combat in the Saarlandmarker, moved to the battlefront, and attacked the German southern flank to break the encirclement at Bastognemarker (although clearing weather allowed air superiority to relieve Bastogne and break the German offensive). In his 2003 biography of Eisenhower, Carlo d'Este implies that Bradley's subsequent promotion to full general was to compensate him for the way in which he had been sidelined during the Battle of the Bulge.

Bradley used the advantage gained in March 1945 — after Eisenhower authorized a difficult but successful Allied offensive (Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade) in February 1945 — to break the German defenses and cross the Rhine into the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. Aggressive pursuit of the disintegrating German troops by Bradley's forces resulted in the capture of a bridge across the Rhine Rivermarker at Remagenmarker. Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the crossing, forming the southern arm of an enormous pincer movement encircling the German forces in the Ruhr from the north and south. Over 300,000 prisoners were taken. American forces then met up with the Soviet forces near the Elbe River in mid-April. By V-E Day, the 12th Army Group was a force of four armies (1st, 3rd, 9th, and 15th) that numbered over 1.3 million men.


General Omar Bradley, 1949 official photo

Bradley headed the Veterans Administrationmarker for two years after the war. He is credited with doing much to improve its health care system and with helping veterans receive their educational benefits under the G. I. Bill of Rights.

Bradley served as the Army Chief of Staff in 1948. On August 11, 1949, President Harry S Truman appointed him the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On September 22, 1950, he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army, the fifth — and last — man in the 20th century to achieve that rank.

Also in 1950, he was made the first Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. He remained on the committee until August 1953, when he left active duty to take a number of positions in commercial life, among them Chairman of the Board of the Bulova Watch Company from 1958 to 1973.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Bradley strongly rebuked General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the U.N. forces in Korea, for his desire to expand the Korean War into China. Soon after Truman relieved MacArthur of command in April 1951, Bradley said in Congressional testimony, "Red China is not the powerful nation seeking to dominate the world. Frankly, in the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

General Omar Nelson Bradley

He published his memoirs in 1951 as A Soldier's Story (ISBN 0-375-75421-0) and took the opportunity to attack Field Marshal Montgomery's 1945 claims to have won the Battle of the Bulge. Bradley spent his last years at a special residence on the grounds of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, part of the complex which supports Fort Blissmarker, Texasmarker.

On December 1, 1965, Bradley's wife Mary died of leukemia. He met Esther Dora "Kitty" Buhler and married her on September 12, 1966; they were married until his death.

Bradley also served as a member of President Lyndon Johnson's Wise Men, a think-tank composed of well-known Americans considered experts in their fields. Their main purpose was to recommend strategies for dealing with the nation's problems, including the Vietnam War. While agreeing with the war in principle, Bradley believed it was being micromanaged by politicians and Pentagon bureaucrats.

In 1970, Bradley also served as a consultant for the film Patton. The film, in which Bradley was portrayed by actor Karl Malden, is very much seen through Bradley's eyes: while admiring of Patton's aggression and will to victory, the film is also implicitly critical of Patton's egoism (particularly his alleged indifference to casualties during the Sicilian campaign) and love of war for its own sake. Bradley is shown being praised by a German intelligence officer for his lack of pretentiousness, "unusual in a general".

In 1971, Bradley was honored by the television series, "This Is Your Life".

On January 10, 1977, Bradley was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford.

His posthumous autobiography, A General's Life, was published in 1983 and ghostwritten by Clay Blair.

One of his last public appearances was in connection with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981. Omar Bradley died on April 8, 1981 in New York City of a cardiac arrhythmia, just a few minutes after receiving an award from the National Institute of Social Sciences. He is buried at Arlington National Cemeterymarker, next to his two wives.

General Bradley's headstone in Arlington Cemetery

Bradley is known for saying, "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than about peace, more about killing than we know about living."

The U.S. Army's M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and M3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicle are named after General Bradley.

On May 5, 2000, the United States Postal Service issued a series of Distinguished Soldiers stamps in which Bradley was honored.

Summary of service

Dates of rank

No pin insignia in 1915 Second Lieutenant, United States Army: June 12, 1915
First Lieutenant, United States Army: October 13, 1916
Captain, United States Army: August 22, 1917
Major, National Army: July 17, 1918
Captain, Regular Army (reverted to peacetime rank): November 4, 1922
Major, Regular Army: June 27, 1924
Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: July 22, 1936
Brigadier General, Army of the United States: February 24, 1941
Major General, Army of the United States: February 18, 1942
Lieutenant General, Army of the United States: June 9, 1943
Colonel, Regular Army: November 13, 1943
General, Army of the United States: March 29, 1945
General rank made permanent in the Regular Army: January 31, 1949
General of the Army, Regular Army: September 22, 1950

Primary decorations

Army Distinguished Service Medal (With three oak leaf clusters)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (w/oak leaf cluster)
Bronze Star
Mexican Border Service Medal
World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver and three campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal with Germany clasp
National Defense Service Medal with star
British Order of the Bath Knight Commander
Order of Polonia Restituta
French Croix de guerre with palm
Order of Kutuzov
Order of Suvorov
Luxembourg War Cross

Assignment history

Omar Bradley
  • 1911: Cadet, United States Military Academy
  • 1915: 14th Infantry Regiment
  • 1919: ROTC professor, South Dakota State Collegemarker
  • 1920: Instructor, United States Military Academymarker (West Point)
  • 1924: Infantry School Student, Fort Benning, Georgia
  • 1925: Commanding Officer, 19th and 27th Infantry Regiments
  • 1927: Office of National Guard and Reserve Affairs, Hawaiian Department
  • 1928: Student, Command and General Staff School
  • 1929: Instructor, Fort Benning, Infantry School
  • 1934: Plans and Training Office, USMA West Point
  • 1938: War Department General Staff, G-1 Chief of Operations Branch and Assistant Secretary of the General Staff
  • 1941: Commandant, Infantry School Fort Benning
  • 1942: Commanding General, 82nd Infantry Division and 28th Infantry Division
  • 1943: Commanding General, II Corps, North Africa and Sicily
  • 1943: Commanding General, Field Forces European Theater

  • 1944: Commanding General, First Army (Later 1st and 12th U.S. Army Groups)
  • 1945: Administrator of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Administration
  • 1948: United States Army Chief of Staff
  • 1949: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • 1953: Retired from active service



  1. Hollister, Jay. " General Omar Nelson Bradley". University of San Diego History Department. May 3, 2001. Retrieved on May 14, 2007.
  2. Weigley, p.81
  3. " The History of Bulova". Bulova. Retrieved on May 14, 2007.
  4. Omar Nelson Bradley, General of the Army
  5. " Distinguished Soldiers". United States Postal Service. Retrieved on May 16, 2007.


Russell F. Weigley Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany 1944-1945 Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-253-20608-1

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