STUARTS DRAFT — At the beginning of the summer, I received an email from a man who wanted to know if the Augusta County Historical Society was interested in a photograph of his uncle.
Staff Sergeant William T. Bradley, Jr., from Stuarts Draft, was a tail gunner in a B-29 during WWII and had been shot down and killed during that war. As an army veteran himself, Bill Ross wanted to make sure that the story of his uncle and others who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country were not forgotten.
He explained that he and a brother in Montana are the last living members of the immediate family and he worried that the photograph and the story associated with it might be forgotten.
“I am hopeful that you could help me in this quest to keep his portrait out of the county landfill at my death and provide some sort of attention to the sacrifices made by Augusta County folks in the not so distant past,” he said.
The answer was that, of course the society wanted to preserve the photograph and the story that made it so special. In short order I met with Bill and learned what he knew about the uncle he never met. In the course of our conversation he also mentioned that Billy Bradley was not the only serviceman from Stuarts Draft to perish during WWII. He knew of one other, his uncle’s friend. In my follow-up research, however, I discovered that there were at least five Stuarts Draft men who made the ultimate sacrifice during that war.
Here then are their stories. Sadly, their stories all begin with telegrams. Let’s start with Sgt. Bradley, known as Billy to his family. The June 27, 1944, issue of the local newspaper described the telegram that arrived at the home of Estelle and W.T. Bradley, Sr. in Stuarts Draft.
“Report now received from German government through the International Red Cross states your son Staff Sergeant William T. Bradley Jr. who was previously reported missing in action was killed in action on the 25th of April over France. The Secretary of War extends his deep sympathy.”
Young Bradley, who was 22 at the time of his death, was a 1936 graduate of Stuarts Draft High School where he had been “well known as an athlete and well liked.” He had been employed at Montgomery Ward and Wayne Manufacturing before joining the army. Bradley had served about two years at the time of his death. He did his basic training in Florida and had spent most of his service in England as part of the 368 USAAF Bomber Group.
Bradley was a tail gunner on a B-29 when his plane was shot down in late April. On May 9, 1944, his parents were informed that he was missing in action. The family had to wait an agonizing six weeks before learning his final fate.
In addition to his parents, Bradley was also survived by two sisters, Louise and Frances, the latter of whom was Bill Ross’s mother. After the war, Bradley’s body was recovered from a graveyard in France and reinterred in the Riverview Cemetery in Waynesboro.
“My grandparents never really talked about their son’s death, but my mother did share some memories of her brother,” Ross remembers.
Ross also remembered that his uncle’s friend from Stuarts Draft, James G. VanFossen, died in the war as well. Pvt. VanFossen’s mother, Mary VanFossen, was notified by telegram that her son lost his life in the summer of 1944 in the Mediterranean.
That summer of 1944 was hard on the families of Stuarts Draft servicemen. On August 2, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Cohron learned by telegram that their son Cpl. Kenneth R. Cohron lost his life in Normandy in July.
The next year, the final year of the war, on March 27, 1945, the local newspaper reported the death of two more Stuarts Draft men: Pfc. Harry N. Harris, son of Frank Harris and Sgt. Claude P. Bradley Jr., son of Claude P. Bradley Sr.
All five Stuarts Draft men are on the plaque listing the WWII war dead that hangs on the front wall of the Augusta County Courthouse. There are almost 250 names on that list.
When I met with Bill Ross and he held up his uncle’s portrait, I saw a dashing young man ready to serve his country. I also saw the resemblance between nephew and uncle. Even though he never met his uncle, Bill was proud of his uncle’s service and ultimate sacrifice. And his desire to make sure that story was not forgotten has enlightened us all as to the sacrifices made by Billy Bradley, the four other young men from Stuarts Draft, and the 250 or so others from our area who gave their lives for our country.
Let’s hope that their stories are never forgotten.