In 1980, Hale Bradt ’52 began a decades-long project to learn about his family’s past after discovering the very personal letters his father, Wilber Bradt, wrote during World War II as a soldier in the Army’s 43rd Infantry Division.
The result is a trilogy titled Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey Through World War II that chronicles Bradt’s father’s experiences in the Pacific theater and the effects of the war on his family. Illustrated with news clips, family photos, maps, and letters, the self-published trilogy is being released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the war’s end on Aug. 14.
During his research, Bradt found some 700 letters by his father, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and was a professor at the University of Maine before the war. Bradt, a professor of physics emeritus at MIT and the author of two textbooks on astrophysics, studied documents in archives and talked to veterans and family members who had been mentioned in the letters. Much of the research was done in the early 1980s, when contemporaries of his father were still alive. Bradt also traveled to the Pacific battlefields — the Solomon Islands and the Philippines — and interviewed a Japanese colonel.
Wilber’s letters offer a picture of his wife, Norma, and her struggles at home, which included hiding a pregnancy from her family. The letters track the couple’s relationship during Wilber’s three-year deployment, his difficult return home, and, tragically, his suicide at the end of the war. “Seeking out the story behind the story in my parents’ lives and of incidents in the Pacific was absolutely fascinating to me,” Bradt says. “I have gotten to know my parents much better than most of us ever do.”