Almost 40 years ago, I saw General Omar Bradley in person. He was in his dress uniform and in a wheelchair. I recall wondering what exactly he had done in WWII to justify five stars? Even with all those stars, he didn’t have the star power in the public's imagination of MacArthur or Patton or Eisenhower or even of others of lesser rank. I now have to wonder no longer. Steven Ossad has admirably filled in my void with a first-rate biography of this American hero from the heartland.
Among the facts I learned about General Bradley:
• He had the greatest field command in the history of the U.S. Army – more troops than the armies of Grant and Lee combined. In fact, few men in recorded history have commanded more men in the field.
• After WWII, he ran the then largest civilian agency in the U.S. government, the Veterans Administration, with a vital role in the demobilization of almost eight million men. In this capacity, he was CEO of the world’s largest welfare agency; biggest life insurance agency; biggest dispenser of pensions; biggest medical agency; and a huge bank which guaranteed loans to veterans for homes, businesses and farms and for education and rehabilitation.
• After successfully completing his VA assignment and following the reorganization of the nation’s national security structure, Bradley became the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also was the first chairman of the military committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which was our country’s first sustained peacetime alliance -- still operating after 70 years.
I picked this book, because I had read some of Mr. Ossad’s work in military history journals and in WWII History. I knew it would be well researched and well written, and I was not disappointed. However, this bio is not hagiography. As admirable a gentleman and officer as Omar Bradley was, he had personal shortcomings, and he made mistakes in command. The author does not gloss over them. As a result we see a real flesh and blood human being in high positions making life-and-death decisions. The effect is authentic. This is a very useful study in command. I hope the book becomes required reading for officers in our nation’s military.