“One of America’s best and bravest.” That’s how Larry Lineback described his late uncle, U.S. Army Spc./E4 Thomas R. Bradley. The words were spoken at a flag-raising ceremony Monday morning on the Tarboro Town Common, honoring Bradley’s memory.
Bradley served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He was called to duty in March 1970.
“Uncle Thomas served until his passing [in November 1970] in one of the most dangerous areas of the war in Vietnam, and by all accounts, he served with top courage and honor, holding true to all of his American upbringing in this area of North Carolina,” said Lineback’s twin brother Barry Lineback.
To the Lineback brothers, Bradley was more than a war hero.
“He was a super uncle, life coach, mentor and friend,” said Larry Lineback. The brothers spent a couple of weeks every summer in Tomahawk with Bradley and their other uncle Butch Bradley. The “big city” boys from Wilmington learned how to “have fun in the country” during those summer excursions, Larry Lineback shared with the audience at the flag raising. He and Barry recalled going fishing in the Black River while Bradley told stories and doing things reminiscent of the “Our Gang” comedies, such as making slingshots.
To Dallas Thompson, Bradley was a friend who made his time of service in Vietnam bearable. Thompson remembered feeling “down in the dumps” at times but knowing that he could rely on Bradley to cheer him up.
“Tom had a way about him. I never did see him sad or depressed. He had a smile on his face,” Thompson told the audience at the memorial service. Bradley was known for playing his guitar for his comrades and reserving rations of food and candy to hand out to the children in the area. Even in the midst of a war zone, Thompson said he and Bradley found reasons to smile, like the time a comrade forgot to jump as a chopper was taking off and ended up jumping from 25 feet off the ground, landing in the foxhole of another soldier and rolling around for a bit.
“We laughed about that for a long time,” Thompson said. The veteran had the audience chuckling one moment and teary-eyed the next, when he looked up and stated, in a serious tone, that he’s proud to be an American and, “Tom was my hero.”
The somber moment continued as Bradley’s son, Chris, placed the memorial wreath.
“They lost a really good guy. Everybody missed him,” Chris said. He doesn’t have any memories of his father, but he still has the Disney clock his father sent him for his third birthday, just before he died.
“I was 27 the first time I met somebody whose father had died in Vietnam,” Chris said. “There’s kids just like me right now, growing up without their parents [during wartime.]”
Bradley’s widow, Linda, called Monday’s memorial a “special day” that brought her whole family, and the Tarboro community, together.
“It means the world to me that they thought enough of Thomas to be here for him even though he didn’t grow up in this community.” Linda said. Originally from Bladen County, Bradley moved to Tarboro prior to marrying Linda and joining the Army.
Monday marked the 114th flag raising ceremony honoring a veteran on the Town Common. The next ceremony will be held in March. In the meantime, the Golden K is seeking families who wish to honor the memory of a veteran in the family.