EPD Captain continues family legacy as he nears 25 years’ service
Published 9:26 am Monday, December 28, 2015
For Elizabethton Police Captain Jerry “Michael” Bradley II, service to his country was a thread woven into his life’s fabric at a young age.
“Growing up, I listened to grandpa’s and my dad’s military stories and was always fascinated by the places they’d gone and things they’d done,” said Michael. “It was what I always wanted to do.”
Those moments laid the foundation for a career of service for this fourth generation military man.
His great grandfather William “Bill” M. Bradley served in the Army in Europe during World War I, beginning a tradition of service. Though Bill’s daughter Shirley Bradley and grandson Jerry Michael Bradley can recall little about his service, Shirley concluded that serving “is in their blood.”
“I feel like serving is a part of my family legacy. I always wanted to go,” said Jerry. “I enlisted right at the height of the Vietnam War, which surprised a lot of people. It was to serve my country, and I think that’s the big thing.”
Jerry’s father Robert “Bob” H. Bradley served in the Army in WWII based out of Japan. Like Bill, little is known about his military career.
“Bob didn’t like to talk about the war,” Shirley said.
She remembers when her brother Bob was deployed in Japan. She and her sisters wrote him letters frequently, and he once sent back bracelets for each of them. She also remembers blackouts that they practiced at home in case of attack and fearing Japanese attacks on home soil. These were one indication to children of the seriousness of the war, of the fear it evoked and of the risk wagered.
Despite this, military service has a red, white and blue blazing luster for children when they hear heroic stories of adventure, foreign terrain and brave encounters.
Just like his grandfather and dad, Michael wanted to enlist in the Army right out of high school, but with a torn anterior cruciate ligament he was not in proper condition. However, in 1992, at age 22, he enlisted Marine.
Though in his childhood, he had anticipated it eagerly, Michael said boot camp is an experience a person cannot understand until he stands before a drill sergeant in those first days wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?”
“You think you know what it’s going to be like, but kind of like having kids, it’s different once you experience it first-hand,” he said.
He was first stationed in Okinawa, Japan, with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. From there, he went to Korea and different places in Europe. He called Camp Lejeune home for his four years, though he frequently returned to Asia.
“I really enjoyed my time in the military and the guys I worked with,” he said. But when faced with the decision to make it a career or to be with his new wife in Tennessee, he chose his family. He said most people he knew who pursued military careers were divorced or had poor relationships with their children, and he wanted a healthy family life.
He said his grandfather, Bob, was a great patriarchal figure in the family and an elder at Southside Christian Church, where Jerry and Michael’s brother are also elders.
“All of them were glad to serve the country,” Shirley said. “My dad kept his uniform for years — till moths destroyed it.”
The family’s service was for a love of country and community, and wanting to do their duty to both, Michael said.
“I’m always proud of what they did outside of the military as well,” he said. “My Dad would drop anything at any time to help someone out, and it was something I wanted to emulate.”
For this reason, he joined the Elizabethton Police Department. He worked a couple jobs before joining the police department, but has been working with the Department for 19 years and been Captain for three. He said it was a continuation of a career of service.
“I think a lot of guys get into it because they miss the camaraderie and the team spirit of the military, and it’s a way to continue your service, without having to be deployed” he said. “I can be a family man and still feel like I’m giving back.”
Michael said his son may be interested in law enforcement, but his daughter shows no indication of interest in enlisting.
“Dad wasn’t extremely thrilled with my decision, but I heard his stories and couldn’t understand why he didn’t want me to do it,” he said.
“When I had my own kids, it was really easy to understand Dad’s hesitation with me. It’s dangerous.”
Despite his father’s worries, he was very supportive throughout Michael’s service.