By Pat Maurer
Joe Bradley is a World War I history buff.
Since he was 12 years old, he has been collecting memorabilia: pictures, uniforms medals and more, about what has been named “One of the deadliest conflicts in history.” He even has a 1917 Model T Ford that was made for the war. The Model T has been in his family for over 60 years he said.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of World War I, a portion of Joe’s collection has been on display at the Pere’ Marquette District Library in Clare for the past ten days. The display is over today, but his whole collection will be on display at the Clare County Historical Museum 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from the first Saturday in May to the last Saturday in September, and his complete display will be on display at the Clare County Fair July 24-29.
He said his traveling display (housed in a 7 by 22 foot trailer) will also be on display in the building at the Veteran’s Freedom Park April 29 for the 6th Annual Freedom 5k run/walk in memory of Specialist Robert Friese, who died in his country’s service on that day, and in memory of all those who gave their lives. “My son Mel knew him well,” Joe said.
He said his display at the Freedom Park will be set up there the week before the run/walk. If anyone is interested in an early viewing, they should contact Renee Haley at the Clare County Veteran’s Affairs office at 539-3273 to find out when the doors will open or check the door in the building at the park. He is also hoping to have his traveling display at the Midland Antique Festival June 3rd and 4th and will have the display at General Jim’s (next to Jay’s Sporting Goods) possibly the first week of August.
At nearly 62 years old, he has amassed an impressive collection and expanded it to include items from other U.S. wars as well. He found four WWI uniforms in the attic of the Historical society when he first became a member and searched for mannequins to display them for some time. He eventually was able to purchase 25 half-mannequins for his uniform displays at the Clare County Historical Society museum.
“I’m doing this [collecting veteran memorabilia] in memory of my father Mel Bradley, who was a World War II veteran,” Joe, a long-time President of the Historical Society, said.
Although he didn’t start collecting until he was 12, he said he became interested from age seven. He went to Memorial Day ceremonies with his father, who would March in the Memorial Day parade. At the time the family lived in Berkley area near Royal Oak. “I remember seeing a statue of a World War I soldier,” he said. He said he was fascinated by it.
When the family moved to Utica in 1962, he said his father returned to Berkley where he still participated in Memorial Day activities each year, taking Joe along.
Joe, now a member of the Sons of the American Legion, was called up during the Viet Nam conflict in 1973, but wasn’t drafted since it was near the end of the war.
He retired early due to a work injury and he and his wife Jackie and their son (named Mel after his grandfather) moved to Hayes Township in 2000. He joined the Historical Society in 2005. He lost his father many years ago, but said former Historical Society President George Dunham is a close friend and has been like a father to him.
It has been 100 years since World War I, which began July 28, 1914 and ended November 11, 2018. Thirty-eight million people including 11 million in the military died during the conflict, and 116,516 of those were soldiers from the United States. Twenty million more worldwide were injured in WWI.
Clare County suffered its own losses. According to Bradley, over 600 soldiers from Clare County went in the service during the war. Bert Howard was the first WWI casualty from Clare County, Joe said.
Joe also mentioned Walter Larman, also from Clare County, who was wounded, a prisoner of war and died in 1918. He is buried in Clare’s Cherry Grove Cemetery.
Another Historical Society member, Marty Johnson gave a presentation at the Library on the casualties of the 1918 Influenza epidemic Monday afternoon. He said he had located the graves of three first cousins from Clare County (each a son of three sisters), James Garrity, Ervin Reed and Arthur Looker. “Looker and Garrity went into the Navy within a week of each other. They died within a day of each other of the flu.” He said he found Garrity and Reed’s tombstones in the Garrity Cemetery in Clare County and Looker’s grave in a Gladwin cemetery. He said the death certificates often said pneumonia when the cause was influenza.
Johnson said, “According to the list from Forrest Meek’s book Heartland, Approximately 660 served [from Clare County]. Of those 17 were wounded and 25 died. Of those who died, seven died of the flu and four were killed in action. I have no idea what happened to the others that caused their deaths. They may have died in accidents (one is listed to have died from a Railroad incident), from infections, or sickness other than the flu. Even those who served and were not listed as wounded may have been [wounded] in some way. Several were gassed and are not on the wounded list, and at least one was on a ship that was torpedoed.”
He said the influenza virus was brought into the United States from France. The epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. A great many were soldiers in WWI.
Marty said he is looking for more information about WWI veterans from the area. “I hope there are families out there that have stories of their ancestor who served in the war. The men and women are all gone, but I hope their stories, whether in letters or oral, have survived. It would be great if some of those letters or stories could be shared with us over the next year so we can share them with others.” He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Joe said he is also constantly learning more about World War I. “I never thought I would be the “historian” person for the area, but people call me all the time. If I can’t help them I refer them to Jon Ringelberg or Marty Johnson for answers.”