In recognition of Veterans Day, American Patriot Organization invited an American hero to assembly on Friday, November 10. Matt Williams ’18 and Jackson Williams ’19 interviewed World War II veteran Joe Brader, who served as a medic during the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Almost 75 years later, Brader still remembers many of the details of his service.
Brader turned 18 in 1943, was drafted into the Army, trained as a medic, and shipped to England in May 1944. He was there just a few days when he was told to board a truck. He didn’t know where he was going, but a few days later he was on a landing craft bound for Normandy, France. “Things were happening so fast, I didn’t know what was happening,” Brader said.
As the landing craft approached Normandy, shells were dropping in the water nearby. And then a crew member dropped the gate too early and said, “Get out!”
Brader thought, “Man, we’re way out!” The jeep sank, and Brader had to swim in. “I had a full field pack and first aid packs strapped to both legs,” he said. “I swam as far as I could go. I thought, ‘Lord, I am done.’ I knew I was going to drown. Then, I straightened up, and my feet hit sand, and I walked on in.”
When he got to the beach, Brader sank to the ground to rest. “I looked over, and about 8 feet from me there was the bottom half of a GI laying there. I thought, ‘I better get out of here.’” Brader got up and walked to a road that ran parallel to the beach. He walked alone to catch up with the rest of his company with shells coming in. “I just walked down the road, and I felt there was a shield around me. Nothing hit me.” He made it to the first aid station.
Six months later, December 1944, Brader was at the Battle of the Bulge. “That was cold, but I had a good sleeping bag that I had made myself,” he said. “I heard the Germans were shooting at everybody who was in sight. They didn’t care if they were medics. I carried a pistol for a little while just in case.”
Brader talked about some of the soldiers he cared for as a medic. He remembers one in particular, who had been shot in the neck. "I didn’t know what to do for him, but I managed to get him to the first aid station. I never heard what happened to him. I still think about him to this day.”
When asked how the experience affected him, Brader said, “I think it made me a better man.”
He got home from the war, though he knew many others who did not. “I don’t like to even think about some of it, you know, after being through it all,” he said. But he keeps the fallen servicemen and servicewomen in his thoughts. Brader flies a flag outside his home all year long. He visits schools to talk about his experiences, and he supports Greater St. Louis Honor Flights.
Two years ago, Brader visited the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., with the Greater St. Louis Honor Flights program. The flight fell on the same day as his birthday, and he was honored for the special anniversary. “That was one of the greatest days of my life,” Brader said.
American Patriots Organization sponsored a donut sale before assembly to benefit Greater St. Louis Honor Flights.