Captain Bradley in Butte
This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. In honor of those who fought and gave their lives for our freedom, we are recounting a story about Captain Omar N. Bradley, a U.S. Army Infantry Officer who graduated from West Point in 1915 and began several years of service, on behalf of his country, in America’s western frontier.
The Copper Frontier – Young Officer Bradley Goes West
Three years out of West Point, Captain Bradley hoped to serve in France where he could further his career by distinguishing himself as a leader in battle, instead he was assigned duty in Arizona. There he helped to guard the country’s border against incursions by Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary leader.
New orders arrived in 1918. Captain Bradley was dispatched to police strategic copper mines in Butte, Montana – once again missing an opportunity to serve his country in Europe. Instead of leading troops to battle in France, as he envisioned, Bradley was assigned a battalion to pull “guard duty” for copper which was used in casings for bullets and bombs. The copper wire stockpile that he was guarding as well was crucial to America’s military operations at the time. Copper put the city of Butte on the map. It has been estimated that Butte supplied around one-third of the copper for the United States in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, particularly during World War I. Little did Captain Bradley know at the time that his station in Butte, protecting and preserving America’s copper mines, would prove to be a fortuitous fortune for military career advancement.
Bradley’s Military Future Launched from Butte
State and federal troops were stationed in Butte from 1914 until 1921 to protect the mines from sabotage as well as labor unrest. Butte was populated by Irish immigrants, some who had come directly from Ireland to work in Butte’s mines. Bradley’s company was asked to assist police during a mine disaster that killed 168 miners and during a miner’s strike, but most of Bradley’s time in Butte involved giving patriotic speeches to civic groups, coaching baseball leagues, and drilling new recruits. Still, during this era, Bradley said he was “proud of every boy in my command.” He led a raid on a Metal Mine Workers Hall where he ordered the arrest of about 50 suspected members of the IWW who were preparing fliers to call for a general strike. A few days later, Bradley received orders to report to Camp Dodge in Iowa, thus leaving Butte and the strategic copper mines. Although his hopes of being sent to France were still high, an outbreak of influenza killed hundreds of soldiers in the Iowa camp just as the war was ending. Although Captain Bradley survived the outbreak, the situation dashed his hopes of gaining a distinguished career as a combat commander – temporarily.
General Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff & General of the Army, WWII
Twenty-five years later, General Omar N. Bradley would help to plan and execute the Allied invasion of Europe during WWII. He earned the reputation as one of the best infantry commanders in WWII. Bradley commanded the 82nd and 28th Infantry Divisions before commanding the 1st Army and the 12th Army Group. After the war, he served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1948-1949 and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1949-1953 while holding the rank of General of the Army – Five Stars. General Bradley died in 1981 after leading a long and distinguished career.
Read more about General Omar N. Bradley, his birthplace, his family, and his remarkable service to his country: