Neighbor spotlight: Elmo Bradfield

Published 9:46 pm Monday, July 3, 2017

The Daily News’ weekly Neighbors series features one person from LaGrange and the surrounding area.

This week we went to Vernon Woods Retirement Home to sit down with 96-year-old William “Elmo” Bradfield, a World War II veteran, to talk about his military experience, how he got his nickname and the secret to a long-fulfilling life.

LDN: Where does the nickname Elmo come from?

Bradfield: My father’s favorite cousin, first cousin, lived in Leesburg, Florida and we’d go down there to see him, he’s come down to see us when I was growing up. His name was Elmo Davidson, my grandmother was a Davidson and that’s the way I got hung up with that name. When I was born in 1921, that was what I would call a saintly name. There was a St. Elmo. Some years after that they come up with this toy that all the kids had and that’s what they called it, Elmo.

LDN: How did you get to LaGrange? Were you born here?

Bradfield: I was born and spent my earlier childhood on West Point Road, between here and West Point. Other than the three years I was in the military, I’ve always lived here in Troup County.

I had a resident here ask me one time, how long have you been here? Where did you come from? I said right here, it’s where I live here. She said how long have you lived here? At the time, I said 90 years, two months and three days.

LDN: So did you never want to go anywhere else? Or was the military responsible for most of your traveling?

Bradfield: I traveled extensively. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I went to the lady over the draft board and asked her when I was going to be drafted. She said ‘Well, you are going to be drafted next month maybe.’ She asked why I wanted to know. I said I see all those pictures of the trench warfare of people in the mud and snow, and I said I don’t want that. I’m going to Atlanta to get in the Air Force, the air corps, so I did. I took all the exams and passed it and that was in ’42. They said we don’t have room for you now, so we are going to defer you a little bit. I went on to a classification center in San Antonio in late 1942, and we were only supposed to stay there two or three weeks, but then again they didn’t need all of us going through air crew training, so we stayed there and they had to call me back again. I went back to San Antonio and went through classification. I was qualified for pilot or navigator. He said your best go is a navigator, but I said ‘no, I want to be a pilot.’

I was assigned to training for the Normandy invasion, to carry the paratroopers to the Normandy invasion, but Douglas couldn’t deliver a plane in time, and I didn’t have a plane, so I sat in Fort Wayne, Indiana for two months and in the meantime D-Day came about. That was my first stroke of luck because 70 percent of the people who participated in that died.

I went on through and they sent me to China Burma India Theater, they called it CBI. There were no roads or railroads in Burma. That’s where the big Burma Jungle Campaign was going on. The American troops and the Merrill’s Marauders was a group that was there. The British troops — I learned to know a lot of those guys — because the only way they could get food, ammunition or any kind of supplies or medication was we had to put it in a big canvas, a bag, and put parachutes on it and they’d set up a target and we’d drop it down. Of course, I had to fly the hump. We set out the campaign to retake Western China so you’d have to fly over the Himalayas in a C47. They were just powerful enough to barely get us over the mountains. We later got C46’s that are more powerful.

LDN: When did you retire from the military, and what did you do after that?

Bradfield:  I spent almost a year and a half flying, taking all the food and ammunition to troops in the jungle and after that, my CO called me in one day. I was a captain in the Air Force at the time and he said captain you have the points to go home. The war was still going on. He said you can go home any time you want to, but I want you to stay. And I said why? He said we are going to move to Shanghai and we are going to use your group to bomb Tokyo and for the invasion of Japan. And I said, how long do I have to make up my mind? He said ‘We need to know right now.’ And I said, ‘OK, well I want to go home,” so I came on home, discharged as a captain, got in the reserves, I did two weeks active duty, two weeks in the reserves and I went to work for Callaway Mills here.

At the time, the wage rate wasn’t very high here, but I interviewed with Delta and Eastern Airlines about being a pilot for them and they said I didn’t have any four-engine [experience]. They said we aren’t flying two engines any more, it’s four engines. They said you don’t have enough math, physics, chemistry, so I decided to go to Georgia Tech and be an engineer. I went back to LaGrange High School and got all that. Then I got sick, stayed in the hospital about two months and didn’t have enough money to do anything then. I went two weeks every month to some base in the USA for training but we didn’t get much training but we got paid. I got paid more for those two weeks I was in the military then I got for working on my job here.”

LDN: On Friday, you attended the veteran meet and greet at Sweetland Amphitheatre. What are nights like that like where you have young people and other people in the community coming out and thanking you for your service in the Air Force?

Bradfield: I was sorry about the rain, but the fact they could put us under that place up there was nice. I talked to several people that I had not seen in 30 years up there that day.

LDN: You are 96 years old. There are a lot of people that hope to make it to 96 and be in the shape you are in. What’s the secret to a long life?

Bradfield: I did everything in moderation. I never ate too much. I never drank too much. My wife said I played golf too much. I quit smoking in 1952 after my father died. I haven’t touched a cigarette since 1952. I never could handle cigars and chewing tobacco. I didn’t want any part of that, so I just quit cold turkey. [At one time] I said I was going to quit smoking so much and that I was going to smoke every hour. Well, I found myself looking at my watch too much trying to see if it was time to smoke again instead of working.

I’ve had a very interesting life. I had traveled extensively on my job. I’ve been to every major city in the United States.

‘Neighbors’ is a weekly series by the Daily News that highlights community members. To nominate a person to be featured, call 706-884-7311.