Statistics show that about 1,000 World War II veterans die every day, so the chances of hearing their stories and gleaning their wisdom are rapidly disappearing.
But there are still some members around of what longtime journalist Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.”
Like Eugene “Radar” Brady of Plato, who turned 96 last Thursday.
As a radar specialist in the U.S. Army, Brady saw action in the South Pacific for several years, spending time on several islands as the Americans dealt with their Japanese opposition. But while many soldiers made big differences while serving lengthy stints during the Second World War, what made Brady’s story somewhat different was his talent using what at the time was a budding technology: radar.
It all started when Brady was growing up as the fourth child in a family of nine on a farm near Plato, and was the only one with the desire to attend high school. To make that happen, he did whatever was necessary to travel the approximately seven miles to get there. At first, he rode his horse, Lunger. But the steed fell ill, so Brady took to literally running the distance for close to two years, sometimes using a pole to vault across a small creek.
“They were going to run cross country races, so I ran to school,” he said. “I was in pretty good shape.”
As a junior and senior, Brady boarded in a small hotel in town, paying his way by milking the owner’s cow and doing other chores. But during his senior year, his father suddenly died of a heart attack, so he dropped out to tend to the family farm.
Brady later entered the Civilian Conservation Corps, working fairly close to home to help support his family.
“We worked hard,” he said. “I remember being on a bridge crew, and if you looked up and saw a pickup coming, you hollered ‘pickup!’ big and loud. That meant pick your rear end up and put your head down. If they found anyone goofing off, they just raised Cain.”
In the 1930s, Brady moved to southern California to live with his older sister and worked with a company that made citrus products from fruit grown in groves in and around Anaheim and Los Angeles.
There he met a girl from Arkansas named Lillie, and the pair married in January 1941. But on December 7 of the same year, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Bradys’ lives changed along with millions of other Americans.
While he was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, Brady’s captain asked if anyone knew anything about radios. The young soldier’s hand went up, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Radar was being developed at the time as a new method of scanning skies for approaching enemy aircraft. Brady eventually became the sergeant who read coordinates to his captain, who would then call them out to anti-aircraft gunners.
“I would sit there between them with a phone in my hand and watch the scopes,” he said. “I’d let them know how far out the planes were, and when they got in close and we were starting to think about firing, I’d say, ‘Here he comes!’
“Then I’d shut up, and the captain would have the phone.”
As his experience with radar grew, Brady proved to be a valuable asset to his cohorts. They began to rely on him to identify whether blips on the screen were kamikaze planes, which suicidal pilots would simply fly right into a given target.
If he was asleep and something showed up on radar, someone would shout, “Get Radar Brady!” and he would be awakened. If the blips didn’t deviate from their course, he would recognize them as kamikazes.
Late in the war, Brady and many other American soldiers were waiting off the coast of the Japanese mainland for a planned invasion. The operation never took place, as president Harry S Truman stepped in and ordered B-29 bombers armed with single nuclear bombs to pay visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Once the war was over, Brady went back to California just long enough to buy a car, bid farewell to relatives and friends, gather his small family and head for Texas County and the place he called “the best community in the world.”
He and Lillie had already arranged the purchase of a farm there, thanks to money Lillie earned working as a “Rosie the Riveter” at Lockheed in Anaheim, and funds obtained from the sale of a Japanese officer’s rising sun flag Brady had found on an island.
The farm was close to Cedar Bluff Baptist Church, where Brady’s mother and father had attended. He was ordained as a deacon and continues to serve to this day, some 60 years later.
Brady milked dairy cows for about 15 years while building a registered Angus herd. He later invented a plan to treat oak fence posts, and started a lumber business he ran for about 15 years before selling it and returning to cattle.
The herd helped send his son Dale to college and allowed Brady to build a brick house for Lillie.
Lillie died about 25 years ago, but Brady has kept going strong. He and his friend, Ida Cook (who taught third-grade in Plato for 32 years), travel to Lebanon for dancing every Saturday night.
Brady does the driving.
“A few years ago I said to my doctor, ‘Doc, I’m a Baptist and I’m a deacon, but I go to the center and dance every Saturday. What about it?’
“He laughed and said, ‘I’m a doctor, I’m a Baptist and they wouldn’t have me for a deacon. You just go on and dance till midnight.'”
Brady often buys dictionaries for third-grade students at Plato. When he visits them, he likes to share his key to longevity.
“I tell them I never drank and never smoked,” Brady said. “If you want to live to be an old person, just remember, never start smoking or drinking. You’ve got the proof of it right here.”
Brady enjoys knowing many kids take his message to heart.
“They always give them a piece of paper to write me a thank-you note,” he said. “It’s surprising how many will say, ‘I’ll never smoke or drink.’
“I know they’re only third-graders, but at least they’re thinking that way.”
Friends and relatives helped Brady celebrate his celebrated 96th birthday last week at the Roby Café. His daughter, Marsha, recalled how his military service affected the way she viewed him.
“You don’t realize that you’re growing up with a hero,” she said.
You don’t realize that you’re growing up with a hero.”