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Omar Nelson Bradley (1893 - 1981)

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Introduction

Omar Nelson Bradley was one of America’s greatest generals. He commanded the largest American force ever united under one man’s leadership during World War II.
World War II was a global conflict that began in Europe on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. In response, Britain and France declared war on Germany. War broke out between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Powers (Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). Japan invaded China, occupied the Philippines, and seized a number of islands throughout the Pacific, while Germany captured much of Europe and North Africa before invading the Soviet Union. Millions of civilians were killed; Jews were specifically singled out by the Germans for extermination, as were other minorities, such as those who were mentally ill, physically and mentally disabled, homosexual, or members of political and religious groups who opposed the Axis Powers.

The United States provided aid to the Allied Powers but remained neutral until Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The United States then declared war on Japan and, in turn, Germany declared war on the United States. The United States joined the Allied Powers and launched an enormous war effort at home and abroad. On the home front, civilians made important contributions by helping to produce military equipment, supplies, and food in record amounts. American military forces fought in Europe, North Africa, and throughout the Pacific against the Axis Powers. By the end of the war, over twelve million Americans had served in the armed forces.

On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered, bringing an end to the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific continued until the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in early August 1945. The Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945. By the end of the war, over 418,500 American servicemen were killed, and worldwide an estimated thirty-eight million people lost their lives during the war.
Afterwards, General Bradley became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He served as a five-star general and had the longest military service in U.S. history.
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Early Years

Omar Nelson Bradley was born on February 12, 1893, near Clark, Omar Bradley lived in this house in Clark, Missouri, around 1900.

In May 2008 the community of Clark dedicated a new monument to honor its favorite son.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (024374)]
Randolph County, Missouri. He was the first child born to John
John Bradley
(February 15, 1867 – January 31, 1908)


John Smith Bradley
[SHS 1999.0745]
and Sarah Hubbard Bradley.
Sarah Elizabeth Hubbard Bradley
(April 18, 1875 – June 23, 1931)


Sarah Hubbard Bradley
[SHS detail from family portrait]
Omar had a younger brother named John who died at the age of two. Omar’s father was a teacher who sometimes walked six miles to work. Omar was just fourteen when his father died of pneumonia
Pneumonia is an illness that affects an individual’s lungs. It is caused by bacterial or viral infections that inflame the air sacs in the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. An individual suffering from pneumonia may have a cough, fever, breathing difficulties, and chest pain. Pneumonia can affect people of all ages and can lead to death if it is left untreated.

. He later said that his father inspired him to be reliable, modest, and responsible.
Omar Bradley at age seventeen pictured in the Moberly High School yearbook of 1910 Bradley at 17 Omar Bradley at age seventeen pictured in the Moberly High School yearbook of 1910.

[SHS 97-0038(1)]
Shortly after John Bradley’s death, Sarah Bradley moved to Moberly where Omar attended high school. She rented rooms to boarders and became a professional seamstress. Omar worked at odd jobs to help with the bills. At school he was a good student and athlete.
Moberly High School baseball team, 1910 Moberly High School baseball team, 1910. Bradley is in the second row, second from right.

[SHS 1997-0038(3)]
Moberly High School track team, 1910. Moberly High School track team, 1910. Bradley is in the second row, second from right.

Bradley was a gifted athlete. He played baseball for Moberly High School and once described himself as a “baseball nut.” He also ran track.

[SHS 1997-0038(2)]
During that time, Omar met Mary Quayle, whom he eventually married. They both graduated from Moberly High School in 1910.

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Becoming an Army Officer

Bradley as a West Point cadet Cadet Bradley Bradley as a West Point cadet.

Bradley almost skipped the West Point exam. He worried that he was not ready for the algebra questions since he had not studied the subject for three years. Also, he learned that at least one of the other young men had been studying an entire year for the test. He decided to take the exam only after the Wabash Railroad gave him a free pass to St. Louis.

On the day of the test, Bradley used all the time allowed but still did not answer all the questions. He returned to his job in Moberly convinced that he had not done well. On July 27, 1911, a telegram arrived at Bradley's home that changed his life. It congratulated him for placing first on the exam. The telegram also informed Bradley that he had just four days to report to the academy on August 1, 1911.

[SHS 004279]

Following high school, Omar Bradley went to work. His plan was to save enough money to attend the University of Missouri in Columbia. One day John Cruson, the local Sunday school superintendent, suggested that he apply to the United States Military Academy (West Point). In the summer of 1911, Bradley took the exam in St. Louis. He earned the region’s top score and was invited to attend the Academy.

U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York United States Military Academy U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Most people refer to the United States Military Academy as West Point. West Point is a site on the Hudson River north of New York City. The United States Military Academy has been located there since 1802.

Young people who want to attend the academy must be nominated by a member of Congress or by the army itself. The coursework is challenging. Unlike most colleges, each cadet must also participate in demanding physical training. At the end of a four-year program, successful cadets are awarded a bachelor of sciences degree. They are also commissioned as second lieutenants, the lowest officer's rank in the army.

Omar Bradley was nominated for the academy by Congressman William M. Rucker. While at West Point Bradley played football and baseball. At graduation he was made a second lieutenant of infantry. Bradley did not become a general for twenty-six years.

[SHS 028819]

Military life at West Point is demanding. Cadets must take difficult classes and live up to a strict code of conduct. Bradley later stated that his Missouri upbringing prepared him for these challenges. As a student he ranked 44th in a class of 164 and lettered in both football and baseball. Many of his classmates would become important leaders. One of them was Dwight Eisenhower, another outstanding general and a future president.


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Many Years of Work

Mary Quayle Mary Quayle Mary Elizabeth Quayle Bradley (July 25, 1892 – December 1, 1965)

Mary Elizabeth Quayle was the daughter of Charles and Eudora Goodfellow Quayle. She had one sister, Sarah Jane, who was two years younger. Charles Quayle was the sheriff of Moberly and a highly respected citizen. When Mary was ten, her father died of tuberculosis.

Mary attended Moberly High School and graduated in 1910. She then moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota, for college, where an aunt was a teacher. Following two years of college, Mary took a teaching job in Albert Lea, Minnesota. In 1914, Mary, Sarah Jane, and their mother moved to Columbia, Missouri, so the girls could attend the University of Missouri.

In the summer of 1915, Mary became engaged to Omar Bradley who had just graduated from the United States Military Academy. Mary had known Bradley for some time. The families were neighbors in Moberly, and the two were in the same high school class. They planned to marry in the spring of 1916; however, only a few weeks before the ceremony, the army ordered Bradley to the Mexican border. The wedding was postponed. Shortly afterwards, Mary contracted typhoid fever. She was ill for months. While in the hospital, she lost all of her hair. Finally, on December 28, 1916, Mary Quayle and Omar Bradley were married in Columbia, Missouri.

For the next forty-nine years, Mary Quayle Bradley was an “army wife.” She moved many times, from one army post to another. There were other times when she was separated from her husband for months. After two problem pregnancies, she gave birth to a healthy daughter in 1923 and named her Elizabeth. As Mrs. Omar Bradley, Mary met many important military and political leaders.

When General Bradley retired from the army, the couple settled in Los Angeles. They then moved to Washington, DC, where Mary was close to her six grandchildren. In poor health, Mary entered Walter Reed Hospital where she died of leukemia on December 1, 1965. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

[SHS 97-0038 (6)]
For about twenty-five years, Omar Bradley was a little-known officer in a small peace time army. He and Mary Quayle wed in Columbia, Missouri, in 1916. Like most military families, they moved At the time of the 1920 census, Bradley was teaching military science at South Dakota State College.

[1920 Federal Census]
quite often. Their one child, Elizabeth, was born in 1923. Bradley served in many different ways during those years. During World War I
Also known as the First World War, World War I was a global war that was centered in Europe. The conflict began on July 28, 1914, and lasted until November 11, 1918. It was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914. Alliances between countries were tested and war soon erupted. The two opposing alliances were the Allies and the Central Powers. The Allies consisted of the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire. The Central Powers were Germany and Austria-Hungary. Other countries were later drawn into the conflict, including the United States, which supported the Allies and entered the war on April 6, 1917. More than sixteen million died during the war and twenty million others were wounded.

, while other soldiers gained experience in France, Bradley was sent to Montana to guard valuable copper mines. Afterwards, he taught at colleges and attended army advanced training schools at Fort Benning and Fort Leavenworth. Bradley rose in rank and trained troops. He learned the fundamentals of command and military organization during these noncombat years. With strong leadership and strategic skills in hand, Bradley was prepared to face the great challenges that lay ahead.
The threat of war The Threat of War
The threat of war

The following points may help to interpret “Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse”:


  • Apocalypse means the end of the world.
  • The Bible uses the term “four horsemen of the apocalypse” to refer to causes of mankind's destruction.
  • Fitzpatrick's “fifth horseman” implies that there is an additional cause of mankind's destruction.
  • The face of the “fifth horseman” is a death skull.
  • The hairstyle of the “fifth horseman” is the same as Adolf Hitler's.
  • The “fifth horseman” has a swastika armband, symbol of the Nazi Party.
  • “Air power” refers to the powerful German Luftwaffe, or air force.


[SHS St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Cartoon Collection, June 4, 1940]

World events brought rapid change for Bradley. By 1940 another world war seemed likely. The army hurried to get ready. Bradley was named the commander of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Parachute training at Fort Benning.

In 1940 the government feared that the United States Army would be drawn into war. At that time the army had only about 175,000 soldiers. The Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) had millions of soldiers. The government ordered the army to expand quickly. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall needed leaders who could organize large numbers of men and develop them into soldiers. One of the men he turned to was Omar Bradley. Bradley was appointed to command the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1941. Before being called overseas, he directed the training of thousands of men and officers.

[Courtesy of the Library of Congress]
Georgia. During these months, he created a school to train new officers. It was so successful that it was copied throughout the army.

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World War II

Soldiers scouting the Kasserine Pass in North Africa in 1943 Kasserine Pass Soldiers scouting the Kasserine Pass in North Africa in 1943.

[Ralph J. Shoemaker Papers, 1920-1964 (C3350), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

The first major campaign in which the U.S. Army fought was in North Africa in early 1943. The inexperienced American II Corps was defeated at the Kasserine Pass by the Germans. Many were worried. General Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower (left) and Omar Bradley (right).

[SHS 007089]
the American commander, sent for Omar Bradley. “Brad,” General Bradley's signature.

[W. Stuart Symington Papers, 1918-1995 (C3874), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
as he was known in the army, was ordered to study the situation and make changes. When the II Corps next went into battle, it drove the Germans back and captured 40,000 soldiers. General Bradley then served in the successful invasion of Sicily. The army was learning to fight well, and Bradley was one of the main reasons for it.

After Sicily, Bradley was appointed to one of the most important jobs of the war. He would be the field commander of American soldiers on June 6, 1944, also known as "D-Day."
“D-Day” refers to the invasion of Normandy, France, by American, British, and Canadian troops on June 6, 1944, during World War II. Over one hundred thousand Allied troops attacked from air and sea to gain a foothold on land in Western Europe. In spite of heavy casualties caused by the fierce resistance from German forces, the invasion allowed the Allies to create a second front in Europe. This made the Germans fight a two-front war against the Soviet Union in the east and the American and British-led forces in the west.
The successful attack allowed the Allies to move directly against the German army in France. Within a year, Bradley’s forces were the first to invade Germany and were in control of much of that country when the war ended in May 1945.
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Postwar Service

Bradley in 1946 Bradley in 1946 General Omar Bradley received an honorary degree from the University of Missouri in 1946. Here he is pictured with University President Frederick A. Middlebush, Missouri State Senator Allen McReynolds, and Governor Phil M. Donnelly.

[SHS 026404]
As World War II ended, President Harry S. Truman asked General Bradley to lead the Veterans Administration. The VA was set up to provide help to the millions of veterans who had fought in the war. Bradley’s leadership skill and his reputation as the “Soldier’s General” More than sixteen million citizens served in the U.S. military during World War II. About eleven million were in the army while the rest served in the navy and marines.

People relied heavily on newspapers for information during World War II. One of the most widely read journalists was Ernie Pyle. During the fighting in Sicily (1943), General Eisenhower told Pyle to “go discover Bradley.” After meeting Bradley, Pyle wrote a lot about the Missouri general. He was especially impressed by the attention Bradley paid to the care and treatment of his soldiers. Pyle praised him as the “soldier's general.”* That is the nickname Bradley has been known by ever since.

Bradley and Pyle became good friends. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the general invited the correspondent aboard the warship Augusta to observe the landing. Later in the war, Pyle was killed during a battle. He was mourned by the millions who read his reports on the war and by his friend Omar Bradley.

*Some writers transformed Pyle's label for Bradley into “the GI's General.” During World War II, however, the initials “GI” were not used to stand for an American soldier. Rather, “GI” was an abbreviation for government issue or general issue.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Cartoon Collection, SHS, March 20, 1944]
made him an excellent choice. He served the VA until he was asked to take over another big job in 1948, the chief of staff. That is when he became the highest-ranking soldier in the army. The next year he became the first ever Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the U.S. Department of Defense who advise the secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council, and the president of the United States on military matters.
In 1950, Congress appointed him General of the Army with five stars. In all of U.S. history only two soldiers, George Washington and John Pershing, have held higher rank.

At the age of sixty in 1953, Bradley retired. For about fifteen years, he was the chairman of the Bulova Watch Company. In 1965, Mary, his wife of almost fifty years, died of leukemia. He married Esther “Kitty” Buhler on September 12, 1966. Over the next several years, Bradley helped with the major film, Patton, and worked on an autobiography Bradley wrote a history and his autobiography.

Omar Bradley wrote two books: A Soldier's Story (1951) and A General's Life: An Autobiography (1983). The autobiography was completed by Clay Blair after Bradley's death.

In 1950 a correspondent named Kitty Buhler interviewed General Bradley. The two became friends, and after the publication of A Soldier's Story, Buhler gained film rights to the book. In 1966, a year after Bradley's wife, Mary, died, he and Kitty Buhler married. Shortly afterwards, Kitty Bradley spoke to people who were making a film about General George Patton. Bradley knew Patton very well and had written about him in A Soldier's Story. The filmmakers hired General Bradley to advise them on their movie and used his book for the basis of the screenplay.

One of the main characters in the movie was General Omar Bradley. The role of Bradley was played by the actor Karl Malden. In 1971 the film Patton won seven Academy Awards.

The International Movie Data Base provides information on Bradley's association with Patton.

[Courtesy of Henry D. Landry]
published after his death. General Bradley's death was front-page news.

[Columbia Missourian, April 9, 1981]
Omar Bradley died of heart failure on April 8, 1981. He was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery. The Bradley tombstone in Arlington Cemetery.

General Omar Bradley was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in 1981 alongside his first wife, Mary Quayle Bradley. Esther “Kitty” Buhler Bradley survived her husband by twenty-three years. She was buried here in 2004. Visitors to Arlington National Cemetery can find the Bradley plot in Section 30, Lot 428-1, Grid AA-39.

[Russell Jacobs photo]

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Legacy

General Omar Bradley General Omar Bradley General Omar N. Bradley as Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1950.

[SHS 007088]

Because of his keen abilities to organize and lead, Omar Bradley became one of the most accomplished generals in the history of the United States Army. He defeated powerful enemy armies and earned a reputation for paying exceptional attention to the care of soldiers serving under him. He received widespread praise and was highly decorated during his lifetime. He remains a respected military figure today.



Text and research by Henry D. Landry

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.

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References and Resources

For more information about Omar Nelson Bradley's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Omar Nelson Bradley in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.


  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • “Bradley Homecoming Stirs Recollection of General's Early Years in Moberly.” Kansas City Times. June 8, 1945.
    • “Omar Bradley: Evolution of a Missouri General.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 30, 1944. p. 3.
    • “A Peerless Military Leader, General Omar Bradley is Dead.” Columbia Daily Tribune. April 29, 1981. p. 1.
    • “In Memory of General Omar Bradley Who Would Have Been 100 Years Old Today.” Moberly Monitor-Index & Evening Democrat. February 12, 1993. p. 4.
    • “Post to Bradley.” Kansas City Times. June 8, 1945. p. 1.
  • Books
    • Bondi, Victor. American Decades, 1940-1949. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995. pp. 132, 216, 277, 389. [REF 973.9 G131]
    • Boswell, Helen Alderson. Genealogical History of General Omar Nelson Bradley. Moberly, MO, 1982. [REF F508.2 B728b]
    • Bradley, Omar N. A Soldier's Story. New York: Henry Holt, 1951. [REF 940.542 B728]
    • Bradley, Omar N., and Clay Blair. A General's Life: An Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. [REF F508.1 B728b]
    • Chambers, John Whiteclay II, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Military History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp. 90, 94, 203, 207-280, 505, 506, 529, 754. [REF 355.0973 Ox2]
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 111-113. [REF F508 D561]
    • Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp. 378-382. [REF 920 Am37]
    • Muench, James F. Five Stars: Missouri's Most Famous Generals. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006. pp. 104-139. [REF F508 M888]
    • Reeder, Russell Potter. Omar Nelson Bradley: The Soldier's General. Champaign, IL: Garrard Publishing, 1969. [REF IJ R2560]
    • Whiting, Charles. Bradley. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971. [REF F508.1 B728]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Kem, James Preston (1890-1965), Papers, 1946-1952 (C2700)
      This collection contains the papers from Kem’s term as a Republican U.S. senator from Missouri. The bulk of the material is constituent correspondence. Information on Omar Bradley can be found in the following folders: 2647, 2691, 2701, 2704, 2709, 2727, 3523, 3746, 11581, 11645, 11646, 11648, 11656, and 11937.
    • Rusk, Howard A. (1901-1989), Papers, 1937-1991 (C3981)
      The papers of Dr. Howard A. Rusk, considered to be the father of rehabilitation medicine, contain Rusk’s correspondence and writings, publicity and clippings, photographs, speeches, awards, and other materials concerning his groundbreaking work with the injured and disabled. Omar Bradley is indexed in the following folders: 6, 68, 156, 249, 346, 396, and 607.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's Website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following Websites:


Historic Missourians: Omar Nelson Bradley
General Omar Bradley Omar Nelson Bradley (1893 – 1981)

[SHS 1999-0074-01]

Omar Nelson Bradley

Born: February 12, 1893
Died: April 8, 1981 (age 88)
Category: Military Leaders
Region of Missouri: Northeast
Missouri Hometown: Near Clark in Randolph County
Related Biographies: John J. Pershing
Omar Bradley's Signature