Wednesday, April 21, 2004 Maryland Independent
A HERO’S REWARD…39 YEARS LATER
Vietnam veteran gets Purple Heart
By Nancy Bromley McConaty
Jack Bradley of Waldorf waited 39 years to receive a Purple Heart for wounds he sustained during a firefight in the jungles of Vietnam when he was a 21-year-old private first class in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Last Saturday, during a ceremony at the Maryland Veterans Cemetery chapel in Cheltenham, the 60-year-old veteran stood proudly as retired U.S. Navy Adm. Michael Nemchick pinned the long-awaited medal on his lapel.
Bradley earned the award May 5, 1965, when he and his fellow Marines were caught in a fierce firefight in the village of LeMy near DaNang.
One of the companies in the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Bradley was a member of the outfit Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines. The 9th MEB was the first major combat unit to arrive in Vietnam.
Bradley was walking behind Pfc. Jennings Shinn during a “sweep” of the village when suddenly Shinn tripped a wire to a land mine. The explosion blew off the back of the Marine’s legs, and Bradley’s chest and neck were pierced with shrapnel.
Unable to see because dirt packed his eyes from the explosion, Bradley yelled for someone to help Shinn.
“I could hear Shinn screaming, and I could hear bullets whizzing past my head,” he recalled. “I was afraid to move…but I knew I had to.”
One of the men in Bradley’s platoon grabbed him, pulling him to safety behind a burial mound. As the man tried to wash the dirt out of Bradley’s eyes with a canteen of water, a corpsman administered medical aid to Shinn.
Both men were supposed to be transported out of the combat area by a medical helicopter, but Bradley refused to leave.
“While we waited for the helicopter, I told Shinn, ‘I’ll get those SOBs for you,’” he said. “I ran back to the village and found my platoon. Everyone was surprised that I wasn’t evacuated.”
Bradley was told by one of his platoon officers that he could not receive the Purple Heart because he refused medical evacuation.
At the time, that was not a concern, Bradley said. It was not until 2000, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, that he changed his mind about receiving the honor.
It took nearly two years for Bradley and his wife, Jean, to jump through all the necessary hoops to receive the Purple Heart. The frustrating experience had an unpleasant ending when the award was unceremoniously left on the front porch of their home by a postal worker last weekend, Jean Bradley said.
“They brought it…and just left it on the porch,” she said. “It’s too special for that, particularly with Jack being so sick.”
Bradley had told his wife if he ever received the award, he wanted to join the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
She made some calls, finally arranging for the Brandywine-based Chapter 2222 of the order to present Bradley with the Purple Heart at one of its meetings.
Initially, the national chapter of the order suggested the presentation of the award take place during the annual state convention in Ocean City this summer. However, Bradley’s health is always a factor in making plans, prompting him and his wife to have the pinning ceremony done by the nearest chapter.
The presentation of the Purple Heart is an especially bittersweet experience for Bradley, who was diagnosed last month with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer.
Both the lymphoma and prostate cancer were caused by Bradley’s exposure to Agent Orange – a code name for a herbicide developed for the military, primarily for use in tropical climates.
In the audience, John Parmelee watched Bradley receive the award. Parmelee drove 14 hours straight from Michigan to watch the ceremony.
His older brother, Lt. James Parmelee, was killed July 14, 1965. Bradley was standing next to Parmelee when he was killed, Jean Bradley said, and was the last person to speak to him. In the past year, Parmelee and the Bradleys have become friends, although Saturday is the first time they have met face to face.
“We were totally surprised; we had no idea he was showing up,” Jean Bradley said of Parmelee’s visit. “I think it was a real honor for Jack.”
Bradley conquered the prostate cancer, but it is uncertain yet if he will win the battle against the lymphoma, Jean Bradley said.
Despite the ailment, Bradley continues his job as a federal police officer with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bradley began his duties at the Supreme Court after serving 21 years as a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.
Bradley said he is not angry that it took the military so long to award him the Purple Heart.
“I’m not angry. Back then, when it happened, I was mad about it,” he said, emotion lacing his voice. “It’s an honor to get it. I’m honored, not angry.”