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PART I BECOMING A COMMANDER 21 CHAPTER 1 Itinerant Farmer from Little Dixie With his rural Missouri background, and partly too, because of the limits of his education, he was inclined to see things in far simpler terms, as right or wrong, wise or foolish. He dealt little in abstractions.—David McCullough1 The Bradleys, Randolph County, Missouri, 1890s By the time Omar Nelson Bradley was born a few miles from Clark, Missouri, on 12 February (Lincoln’s birthday) 1893, his family on both sides had been living in Randolph County for more than a century. After emigrating from England in the mid-­eighteenth century, and after a brief stop in Kentucky, his forebears had settled between Higby, a town of fifteen hundred, and Clark, scarcely any larger. They had been subsistence farmers and tradesmen for generations.2 Randolph Country and the half dozen surrounding counties in the north-­ central part of the state were known as “Little Dixie,” testament to the majority sympathy during the Civil War, with attitudes and a way of life that had changed little in the half century since the end of that war. Bradley’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Bradley, was a private in the Confederate Army, and his other grandfather briefly fought for the Union. Bradley publicly proclaimed no preference, taking pride in his ability to deliver a speech anywhere; when in the South he spoke of Tom Bradley, and in the North he praised GAR vet Grandpa Hubbard.3 His real views on race continue to be debated, “I was not a racist,” he claimed, but like his fellow Missourian, Harry Truman, he may well have harbored the racial prejudices that were typical of the time for people of his background and milieu.4 Bradley’s Veterans Administration (VA) biography attributes the selection of the Christian name Omar to his mother, who insisted on a name that would 22 Part I Becoming a Commander easily distinguish him from his many relations.5 He believed the real reason was to honor Omar D. Gray (1869–1935), a local editor with a reputation for democratic prairie populism and a friend of his father. At the time, the name Omar had no association with Persian poets or other faraway peoples, at least not in Randolph County. In fact, Bradley’s fourth grade teacher was named Omar Robb. Years later some in the army, including (not surprisingly) Patton, made fun of the name. Nelson, his middle name, was to honor their family doctor.6 John Smith Bradley (1867–1908) was a subsistence farmer and a self-­ taught itinerant schoolteacher who “at the end of each short six-­ month term, took an interim job. Sometimes we lived on a farm, sometimes in town. For a period of several years we farmed 200 bottom-­ land acres.”7 John had a reputation as a strict, occasionally physical, disciplinarian. In one widely cited episode he took on a pair of knife-­ wielding students in his multi-­ grade classroom with a club, knocking both trouble makers unconscious. Physically strong and imposing for the time, at five feet ten inches and 190 pounds, he was a bit shorter and heavier than his son at the same age. He was also opinionated, self-­ reliant, and resourceful, at home with the great books or alone in the wilderness.8 After four years of teaching, at age twenty-­ five, John married one of his students , sixteen-­year-­old Sarah Elizabeth “Bessie” Hubbard (1875–1931), raising eyebrows about the age gap, especially when Omar Bradley was born exactly nine months later. The young couple lived with Bessie’s parents for the first years in the same house where they were married, and where Bessie’s younger sister died of tuberculosis, leaving two daughters, Nettie and Opal Bogie, aged eleven and eight, in the care of the young couple. Omar Bradley was happy with the arrangement, “they were like sisters to me,” especially after his younger brother, Raymond, died in early childhood.9 Eventually John moved the extended family to a series of one-­ room log cabins, right out of the frontier myth but normal for many in Randolph County. As a boy Omar changed schools often, worked as a sharecropper or manual laborer when he could, and was, like the rest of his family, always living at the edge of poverty.10 Bessie’s hair went grey before her twentieth birthday, as did Omar Bradley’s, and years went by before she had a permanent home. During Raymond...


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