The most unassuming of the WW II military chiefs has (in recompense?) the last, stinging word. Omar Bradley (1893-1981)...


A GENERAL'S LIFE: An Autobiography

The most unassuming of the WW II military chiefs has (in recompense?) the last, stinging word. Omar Bradley (1893-1981) commanded a corps in North Africa, an army in Sicily, US ground forces in France; he headed the postwar VA (1945-48), became Army chief of staff at the start of the Cold War (1948), served as first chairman of the joint chiefs during armed-services unification and the Korean War (1949-53). In 1951 he published a discreet WW II memoir (ghosted by an aide), A Soldier's Story. Subsequently, we learn from collaborator Blair's foreword, he tried to write his autobiography, and failed--whereupon Blair (Return from the River Kwai, etc.) was called in. The outcome is a vigorous, accomplished, exceptionally unconstrained narrative. Bradley not only outlived Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, et al.; he lived on (with a second, much younger screenwriter wife) into a new era. But the book's form is also problematic: as he explains, Blair ""had not completed the World War II section"" when Bradley died; yet he writes as Bradley to the end--voicing opinions that readers can't verify and, as crucially, not voicing opinions that he can't verify. The degree of detailing, and of personal inflection, varies too. On all scores, the early pages are outstanding. After the death of his idolized schoolmaster/marksman/populist father, dirt-poor Missourian Bradley happens upon West Point. He graduates as the most ""getting there"" member of the Class of 1915 (yearbook editor Ike Eisenhower's accolade), finds a vocation in the lowly infantry, and a specialty in ""terrain and tactics."" At Fort Benning, he impresses the aloof, tight-lipped George Marshall (""Bradley, that's the best demonstration I ever saw""); as '41 Benning commandant, he's also ""The first man in my class to make [general]!"" Soon, Bradley will go to North Africa, to join ""my classmate Ike"" and the gathering conflict. . . not with the Axis, but among the Allied commanders. The key relationship, implicitly, is with ""Ike."" Bradley will rail against Patton's, Montgomery's, and (later) MacArthur's ""megalomania""; he will decry Montgomery's cautiousness and Patton's recklessness, and deny both some of their famous victories; he will grant the British some points, and repeatedly score them for hogging the limelight. He will also reargue one after another operation--the Normandy breakout, the Falaise Gap, the Battle of the Bulge, the two-thrust advance on Germany--with reference, now, to Ultra. But Ike is always in the wings: blundering in North Africa and Sicily, a patsy for the British, firmer and more dexterous on the Western front. Bradley also confirms the the Kay Summersby romance (""as far as my personal knowledge extends"") and takes wry note of lke's ""astounding"" written output. Postwar, new conflicts arise: over the siting of VA hospitals (local employment vs. med school affiliation), the supercarrier issue (A-bombs for the Navy?), and, preeminently, Korea--step-by-""tragically erroneous"" step. Homespun Missourians Truman and Bradley hit it off, and Bradley praises Truman's ""political courage."" He also raps Ike's presidential campaign; says HST expressed regret at not grooming Bradley for the presidency; and more. Explosive yet likable.

Pub Date: March 7, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1982

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