Drafted into the U.S. Army at 18, Onset native Bradford Holmes found himself in Nazi concentration camp Stalag IV-B, living in horrible conditions, about a year later.
Holmes was captured as a prisoner of war on Dec. 17, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge and marched with other POWs for several days through the snow before he boarded a train that was mistakenly attacked by the Royal Air Force. “So many men got killed. There were so many dead men the following morning,” he said.
On Wednesday in Town Hall, Holmes, now 92, looked the picture of health, beaming with a bright smile, and wearing a WW II Veteran baseball-style hat, plaid button-down shirt, sport coat and pants as he accepted the Prisoner of War Medal from U.S. Rep. William Keating. About 50 veterans, family members and friends attended the presentation.
“This is unbelievable. I’m delighted that so many people came. This is wonderful,” said Holmes, his medal freshly pinned on his right lapel.
“This is how we define ourselves as a country. We’re honoring him and honoring what we stand for as a country,” said Keating, invoking George Washington’s famous words about how young people’s willingness to serve in any war is in direct relation to how they perceive other veterans are treated and appreciated by their nation.
“You inspire all of us today,” said Keating.
At the presentation, Holmes talked about the horrors of war and his life in a POW Camp — digging foxholes in the frozen ground; laying on the ground and using what he learned later was a dead cow for cover during a skirmish; surviving off carrots and soup in the POW Camp; carrying logs out of the woods; working for a month in a German furniture factory, a job he volunteered for to escape the horrible life in the concentration camp; and wearing the same set of clothes for six months. “There was no place to wash or dry them,” he said.
He recalled how he encountered a woman in the former Republic of Czechoslovakia, pushing a small child in a baby carriage up a hill and offered to help. She, in turn, wanted to give him some of her baby’s milk, but he refused. Such were the times, he said.
Upon Holmes’ return to the States he married and started a family. His son, Richard Holmes, 66, of Freetown, a Vietnam War veteran, was instrumental in getting his father the POW Medal. “He deserved it,” Richard said.
Richard Holmes had requested the reissuance of his father’s WW II medals for his 92nd birthday last September. They arrived the day before the party.
A cousin asked Richard Holmes if his father had received the POW Medal and Holmes said no. Richard did some research and learned Congress had authorized the medal years after the Vietnam War. He contacted Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s office and learned the medal was not issued retroactively and they asked if he could provide proof that his father was a POW.
He provided Kennedy’s office with a letter the government sent to his father’s mother saying Holmes was missing and a picture of his father’s Stalag IV-B dog tags. The request for the POW Medal was approved and sent to Keating’s office because his father lives in Keating’s 9th Massachusetts district.
As Bradford Holmes posed for pictures and accepted congratulations, he was asked his secret to his long life. “Keep working and whatever you drink for refreshments, do it in moderation,” he said.
Richard found that funny, explaining while doctors encourage their patients to drink water, his father “never touches the stuff.”
© 2018 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.