Onset World War II POW given long overdue medal

Apr 5, 2018

World War II veteran Bradford Holmes of Onset remembers the hardships he endured as a prisoner of war. There was the hard labor, lack of food and threat of death, but one memory – an act of kindness – gave him pause on Wednesday.

After his captors fled near the war’s end, Holmes, fellow soldiers and civilians trekked to allied territory. In war-torn Czechoslovakia, a deeply weary Holmes met a young mother also fleeing. She struggled to push a cart with all of her belongings up a hill.

“As bad a shape as I was in, I figured I could help her,” he said. “Then she offered me some of the baby’s milk. I said, ‘No, no, I can’t take the baby’s milk.’ As bad as I got, I wouldn’t take milk away from a child.”

Holmes spoke before a crowd of nearly 40 in Wareham Town Hall where he received a Prisoner-of-War Medal, more than 70 years after he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge.

Congressman Bill Keating (D-9th District) presented the medal during the emotional ceremony, held to honor Holmes and also dedicate a prisoners of war memorial chair donated by veterans groups.

“You make our country so proud,” Keating told Holmes.

Holmes, 92, was drafted into the Army at the age of 18 after working for the cranberry industry as a teenager. Holmes joined the 423rd regiment. He recalled fighting on the front lines where German artillery, nicknamed Screaming Mimis, rained down.

“Germans were pouring down on the regiment,” said Holmes. “We were catching all kinds of hell.”

On Dec. 17 1944, he was captured and taken to German POW Camp Stalag IV-B. He spent 10 days in a freight train car with 60 others. While allied forces advanced, Holmes and the prisoners were caught in the fighting, trapped on the train.

“I told the guys: ‘If we don’t get a direct hit we’ll be all right,’” he said.

He survived. Others weren’t as fortunate after an attack.

“There were so many dead out there the following morning,” he recalled.

Back home in Onset, his mother, Olive, received a letter from the War Department dated Jan. 14, 1945. It stated Holmes was missing in action.

“Experience has shown that many persons reported missing in action are subsequently reported as prisoners of war,” the letter, which was on display Wednesday, read. “Permit me to extend to you my heartfelt sympathy during this period of uncertainty.”

In Germany, Holmes opted for a work detail to escape the horrible camp conditions. He worked in a furniture factory that became a target for allied bombers.Eventually, the Germans abandoned the camp leaving Holmes and others free to walk away. His first contact with American forces followed a few days after when a Jeep full of members of the press drove toward him. He was then flown home and started a family in Onset soon after.

Before the ceremony, neighbors, friends and family greeted Holmes. Many mentioned how helpful he is, always willing to lend a hand with a project.

After the ceremony, many were touched by Holmes’ story, including Selectman Alan Slavin.

“They don’t make them like that any more,” said Slavin. “He’s a remarkable man.”

In addition to Keating, several other elected officials and community leaders were on hand for the ceremony. They included: Board of Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum, Town Administrator Derek Sullivan, Barbara Morse representing Rep. Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham), Ted Hatch from the Wareham-New Bedford Lodge of Elks and American Legion Commander Bob Powilatis, who served as master of ceremonies.