Bruce Bradley was the youngest of five children born to Daniel and Luella Beemer Bradley in Paw Paw, Illinois. Daniel Bradley was a farmer, and his wife was a homemaker.
Since Bruce’s mother was confined to the Dixon State Hospital from the time Bruce was a child, his father cared for his young children with the help of the older siblings. Bruce was extremely close to his older sister, Laura, who all but “raised him from the time he was 2 ½ years old.” When he was seven years old, Bruce moved to Elgin, Illinois, to live with his sister and her husband, Jacob Nesler.
Bruce attended Elgin High School for two and a half years before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in October 1940 with his father’s consent. He reported for duty at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Bruce was later transferred to San Diego, California, before being assigned to the USS Arizona on December 9, 1940.
The USS Arizona was commissioned on October 17, 1916, and was named for the recently added state. The ship was part of the honor escort that delivered President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference following World War I and returned home from France carrying 238 American veterans from the Great War.
The USS Arizona participated in training, fleet exercises, gunnery practice, and maintenance during the period of peace between the world wars. The ship received a comprehensive overhaul in 1931. It was sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when tensions increased between the United States and Japan. In October 1941, the Arizona was damaged during a training exercise when it was struck by the USS Oklahoma.
Entering the U.S. Navy as an Apprentice Seaman, Bradley earned the rating of Seaman Second Class on February 8, 1941. In this role, Bradley engaged in naval drill duties, mastered naval knots, and excelled at signaling and steering. In addition, it was his responsibility to stand watch and perform gunnery duties. Bradley was on board the Arizona when it was called to action in Pearl Harbor in the months preceding American entry into World War II.
“Thought it was a Joke”
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor shortly before 8:00 a.m. local time on December 7, 1941. Ensign G.S. Flannigan described the first moments of the attack aboard the Arizona:
About 8 o’clock I hear the air raid sirens. I was in the bunk room and everyone in the bunk room thought it was a joke to have an air raid on Sunday. Then I heard an explosion. I was undressed. I climbed into some khaki clothes and shoes. Then the general alarm bell went.
The Arizona received a devastating hit at approximately 8:10 a.m. that ignited fires in the forward part of the ship. Explosions and fires, combined with the rapid sinking of the ship, led to the death of 1,177 crew members. Ensign W.J. Bush described his final moments aboard the USS Arizona:
...there were three violent blasts with flame and powder fumes entering the compartment. I then told all personnel in the vicinity to get out and go topside to avoid the gas. About twenty enlisted personnel and myself went topside. I saw the entire ship forward of #3 turret to be a raging fire…Shortly thereafter Ensign Davison and myself got three boats clear of the oil fire on the water and picked up the men in the water who had jumped to get clear of the fire. We took several boatloads of badly burned and injured men to Ford Island landing and continued picking up men in the water between the ship and the shore…Ensign Lenning, Ensign Miller, and Lt. Comdr. Fuqua made sure no one could be rescued from the after end of the ship before they left.
Bradley was among the crew who perished aboard the Arizona. Bradley’s father received a telegram from the Chief of Bureau of Navigation on December 20, 1941, declaring Bradley Missing In Action. On January 20, 1942, a second telegram stated that his son was “officially declared to have lost his life in the service of his country.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor marked the entry of the United States into World War II. For the Bradley family, it marked the beginning of years searching for answers and closure regarding the fate of their son and brother.
Bradley’s remains were listed as unrecoverable aboard the USS Arizona. In 1944, his sister, Laura, wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel to inquire about her brother’s remains. In the aftermath of this tragic loss, the family was desperate to find proof of Bradley’s fate. In her letter, Laura requested “proof of my brother’s death at Pearl Harbor.” She further sought “his identification tag or any proof that he lost his life on that boat.” As the family tried to cope with the loss of their youngest member, they requested a large American flag to honor their fallen loved one.
The Purple Heart was awarded to Bruce Bradley posthumously on January 21, 1943, and he received the World War II Victory Medal and American Defense Service Medal on December 14, 1946. These medals were subsequently misplaced over the years. Bradley’s great-niece petitioned the U.S. Navy to issue a replacement Purple Heart to the family 75 years after his ship went down. Since all immediate family members are deceased, the task was cumbersome, but successful. Bradley’s great-nephew and namesake now possesses the Purple Heart in honor of his great-uncle’s ultimate sacrifice.
Bradley’s name was inscribed on the Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and also appears on the USS Arizona Memorial. The family further honored Bradley by erecting a memorial for him alongside the resting place of his parents in his birthplace of Paw Paw, Illinois.
Bradley, Bruce James. Telephone interview with the author. January 5, 2017.
Bruce Dean Bradley. Individual Deceased Personnel File. Department of the Army.
Bruce Dean Bradley, Official Military Personnel File, Department of the Navy, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, RG 24, National Archives and Records Administration - St. Louis.
Bradley, Don. Telephone interview with the author. December 1, 2016.
Bradley Family Photographs. Courtesy of Bruce Dean Bradley.
Emerson, Julian. “Purple Persistence: Pearl Harbor fallen hero’s family’s lost treasure finally replaced.” Leader Telegram, December 8, 2016. http://www.leadertelegram.com/News/Front-Page/2016/12/08/Purple-persistence.html.
Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona (BB 39) afire. Photograph. 1941. National Archives and Records Administration (19942). Image. National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Nease, Nancy. “Bradley, Bruce Dean.” USS Arizona Reunion Association. Last Updated 2016. Accessed April 2, 2017. http://www.ussarizona.org/index.php/features/lists/uss-arizona-casualty-list/495-bradley-bruce-dean.
Pearl Harbor T.H. Taken by Surprise During Jap Ariel Attack. Wreckage of USS Arizona (BB 39) Lying in Mud. Photograph. December 7, 1941. National Archives and Records Administration (413510). Image. National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Poulda, Tari. Telephone interview with the author. January 3, 2017.
Records of Relating to Naval Activity WWII; WWII Action and Operational Reports; Records of the Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38 (Box 814); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries. “USS Arizona That Terrible Day.” University of Arizona. April 2, 2017.
Turnquist, Jerry. “Elgin Memorial Day service honors fallen sailors from Pearl Harbor attack.” Daily Herald, May 30, 2016. http://www.dhbusinessledger.com/article/20160530/news/160539999/.