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Sunday, November 15 2015

Wilber’s War chronicles the story of two ordinary Americans, Wilber and Norma Bradt, during an extraordinary time, World War II. Their story, told in three volumes, offers fresh insight—on a deeply personal level—into the historic conflict as it was fought by the U.S. Army in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and The Philippines and by a family on the home front. It is an epic tale of duty, heroism, love, and human frailty.

The story is told in large part in Wilber’s own words in a sensitive editing of his some 700 richly detailed wartime letters. His untimely death at war’s end launches the reader into the family’s wartime saga.

The work spotlights the ways in which individuals shaped, and were shaped by, World War II. It offers a nuanced view into the complexities faced by one family and by U.S. society as a whole when it ships soldiers off to war and asks loved ones to forge new lives on the home front.

Author Hale Bradt, Wilber and Norma’s son, shares his parents’ stories with insight, compassion, and a wealth of carefully selected images that bring their experiences to life.  On his 50th birthday, Hale Bradt made a discovery that would not only change his own life but would further enrich the American story of World War II. Prompted by an argument with one of his sisters, he unearthed long-forgotten letters written by his father, Wilber, while Wilber served in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Stunned by their power and insight, Bradt began a decades-long journey to learn more about his father and his family’s past, unlocking stories that thrust him into a saga of heroism and heart-wrenching drama. Visiting in the 1980s the battlefields where his father fought, he adds another uniquely American voice to this rich story: that of a son seeking to unravel the tangled threads of his family’s legacy.

Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II
by Hale Bradt


1112 pages, 39 maps, 269 photos/facsimiles
Price (three hardcover books in a slipcase): $125
Price (Ebooks): $10 each; $25 for all three.
Order Online:

ISBN (the trilogy): 978-0-9908544-0-1
LCCN (the trilogy): 2014922173

Image: On of 12 105-mm howitzers of Wilber's battalion (152nd Field Artillery) firing "over the American perimeter," Aitape, New Guinea, August 4, 1944.

Excerpts from "Wilber's War: An American Family's Journey througnh World War II"
Visit for more excerpts and information on the 3-volume gift set

Camp Blanding, Florida, December 7, 1941
Dearest Wife and My Darling Children — I am just hearing newscasts of Japan [sic] attacks on Hawaii…. We have expected war to come to us for a long time. It is here and I want you to know I love you. That seems to be all there is in my heart.

New York City, January 1943 (narrator)
[Norma’s plight] must have thrown her into despair. I, as a naive 12-year old, had no hint of this. Norma soldiered on through the rest of the spring, managing her children’s lives as well as supporting Wilber with her letters.

Arundel Island, Solomon Islands, September 1943
It was on this move that we went thru a swamp that surpassed all my ideas of swamps. It was deep, slimy, stinking, sticky, sucking mud under about six inches of very nasty water. There were vines and rotten logs to climb over and really every step was over crotch deep. Several times I doubted if I could pull a leg out of the depth to which it had sunk.

Ondonga, Solomon Islands, October 3, 1943
[To Norma:] I know you will never leave me. You haven’t a chance if you tried. You keep reassuring me, and I “ain’t” even worried… The war seems so trivial beside your love for me. It gets noisy now + then, but the music of my Nana [Norma] sounds clear + pure thru the noise + confusion to me.… You seem to be a pretty necessary part of this soldier’s equipment.

En route to U.S.A., October 5, 1945
[To Norma:] There have been times when I lacked the courage to continue the pace I had set for myself, when it was a temptation [to] not go into dangerous places that day. On those days you have reassured me and led me thru the hard places. Your days have been lonely. You have worked too hard. You have been ill away from me and have done many things I ought to have done. Yet your letters have been brave and sweet and loving until I could not but adore you.

Wilber’s letters are vivid and highly literate. He wrote with candor, often with humor, and in detail of censorable battlefield events; those letters would be mailed when censorship was lifted. Alongside the social and psychological value of the letters, they provide a stunning first-person description of war told in its midst. It is an army story of the Pacific War—not the oft-told navy and marine story— and it reflects the mores of the time; patriotism was strong and some topics remained unspoken.

Skillfully juxtaposed are the backstory of the family at home, the wider aspects of the war, the author’s visits to the battle areas, and his search into the hidden facets of his parents’ story.

In the three-book set, Bradt reproduces much of his father’s intimate narrative from the Pacific front and recounts his painful return home after a three-year deployment. The accounts reveal not only on-the-ground details of Pacific combat, but the tangled web of a mother’s heartbreaking sacrifice, a tragic suicide, and a family that was reshaped forever.

“Wilber’s letters form the backbone of the story,” notes Bradt. “His mailings to my mother, my sister and me, and to his parents, exhibit very different aspects of my father: the lover, the father, and the son. It’s real life, not always pretty but always hugely revealing.”

The wartime letters also offer a picture of Norma, Wilber’s wife, as a complex, if not uncontroversial, heroine. A military spouse plagued by her husband’s lengthy deployment, she faced immense personal struggles on the home front while attending to the needs of her family. How she chose to handle these challenges becomes a distinctive and irrevocable element in the Bradt family saga.

“The story of Wilber’s and Norma’s lives is told through selections from those letters and in roughly equal measure through context and interpretation provided by me,” Bradt explains. “My father’s writing is vividly descriptive, technically informative, poetic, romantic, sometimes racy, and also quite introspective.

“The letters provide us with an epic view of the entire Pacific war, from the battlefront to the home front. The story also illuminates early 20th century America and tracks my father’s transformation from chemist to soldier and his evolving mental states while overseas.”

About the author

Hale Bradt is a Korean War veteran and an astrophysicist retired from M.I.T. who once searched for black holes, but turned to searching for family and wartime history. He has been intrigued by the Bradt family story for more than three decades, interviewing relatives, academic and military colleagues, and a Japanese officer against whom his father fought in the Solomon Islands. His discovery of his father’s letters from the Pacific gave him an unusual basis for exploring new aspects of World War II history, as he scoured the National Archives and even visited the Pacific battle sites where his father fought; there, he found the artifacts and people his father had known and written about. As a history buff and one who remembers WWII, Bradt is well qualified to provide a new context about a country at war.

Information and graphics for this review were provided by Smith Publicity and the author.  []

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