Neighbors spotted the smoke coming from Bill Bradley’s house on May 20. According to two different accounts, either the neighbors or Bradley’s son managed to pull Bradley out of the house just in time. He had only the clothes on his back with him that day.
A local TV station reported on the 97-year-old WWII vet’s staggering loss of property. But fortunately for him, fellow veteran Patrick McGee of Goodlettsville was watching when the segment aired. And McGee was inspired to help out, the Portland Leader reports.
Portland Veteran Fought in Battle of the Bulge, Omaha Beach
McGee is an Army veteran whose own father served in WWII. So he knew Bradley’s medals were “more than eye candy for a uniform” – for a soldier, they’re like a resume, he said.
“A report like that is heartbreaking to begin with, but the thing that really caught my eye was there was a quick shot of his military decorations,” McGee told the Leader. The medals, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, were “charred like a piece of charcoal.”
Bradley has been staying with his granddaughter, Dustin Cole, since the fire consumed his house. And there is a GoFundMe to help Bradley rebuild his home – it has currently raised over $21,000 toward its $100,000 goal – which was not covered by insurance. Still, that didn’t fix Bradley’s charred medals.
That’s where McGee came in. He got in touch with Cole through the local TV station and expressed an interest in helping to replace Bradley’s medals and uniform. McGee had restored his own dad’s service jacket, so he had some experience.
But McGee didn’t have Bradley’s service record. So he had to interview the veteran.
“Mr. Bradley is sharp as a tack,” McGee told the Leader. “His recollection is clear… I pieced together exactly what should be on his uniform.”
McGee learned that Bradley was a ranger in the 7th Armored Division, which had an impressive track record in the European Theater. They landed on Omaha and Utah Beaches in Normandy and went on to liberate multiple French towns. They also fought in the Netherlands and faced the German advance in the Battle of the Bulge.
Bradley suffered two injuries in combat. The veteran took shrapnel in his legs when a German grenade went off, and he nearly lost his left arm in a motorcycle crash.
“Going through all of this brought it all back up for him,” Cole told the Leader, noting that her grandfather received stars for valor under highly dangerous conditions. “There were things I had never heard. It’s been neat hearing him talk about it.”
McGee Restored Many Medals
It wasn’t just the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart that McGee had to restore. He set about getting vintage copies of the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the 7th Armored Division’s patch.
Then McGee found the chevron for Bradley’s rank – private first class – and three service bars for a year and a half in a combat zone. Bradley also had a ribbon with four stars, representing each major battle in Europe that he joined. Then there was the Ruptured Duck, a patch of an eagle in flight that more closely resembles a duck, which he got when his time of duty was almost up.
McGee turned to stores specializing in military medals. And he scoured eBay for the decorations he couldn’t find at stores. He even recreated the citation accompanying the Bronze Star using Word. The whole endeavor took weeks.
“He brought the medals and talked to me, and even got the official documents from the Army showing what I’ve done,” Bradley told the Leader. “It’s amazing, really is. Means a lot to me.”
“Restoring a person’s spirit is just as important as money,” McGee added. “My wife and I donated to his GoFundMe, but that was easy… He is a true American hero, and there’s not many of those World War II guys left. He’s a precious commodity for Tennessee and for Portland in particular.”