World War II buddies reunited after 61 years

Published: July 13, 2006 | 4459th good news item since 2003

“ It’s kind of spur of the moment, ” Ellen Bolte said with a tinge of excitement in her voice.

This particular day, July 6, was a busy one for Bolte and Ken Hays. The couple, who have been dating for nine years, were making

preparations for a visit from a special guest. Hays was about to reunite with James Bradshaw, a man with whom he was stationed shoulder to shoulder at a U. S. Army base in Staten Island, New York City, a friend he hasn’t laid eyes on in 61 years.

“ Of all the friendships I had in the service, the one I had with [Ken ] was special, ” Bradshaw said while sitting in Hays’ living room with his old buddy, his wife Betty Lou and Bolte.

Hays and Bradshaw served in the Army from 1945 to 1946, at the end of World War II. The pair were serving in the Army’s Transportation Corps, the fleet of ships that returned stationed soldiers and their wives back home after the war. President Harry Truman’s decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima saved their lives, the two said.

“ The bomb saved both of us, ” Hays said. “ We were ready to be shipped off [to service abroad ]. ” Instead, they were sent to Staten Island to man ships bringing soldiers home. It was a time of great jubilation, Hays said.

Hays remembers being stationed on the Queen Mary, one of the two largest ships in the world that weighed 85, 000 tons. The ship had 12 floors and accommodated as many as 18, 000 soldiers.

“ They had [soldiers ] sleeping everywhere, ” Hays said.

Among his more interesting duties, Hays was in charge of the movies on the ship. A large sheet was draped across the huge deck of the ship, and a projector was used to show the movies.

Once, during a tugboat strike, Hays remembers the captain docking the Queen Mary without the benefit of the tugboats, shredding the dock and part of the street.

One particular voyage he remembers vividly. On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill made his famous speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where he identified the gap between Western powers and the Soviet Union as the “ Iron Curtain. ” The speech marked the beginning of the Cold War, and Hays was there to meet Churchill on the same ship that transported him back to England.

In their down time, Hays and Bradshaw experienced New York City as only wideeyed young men could.

“ He and I saw more of New York than most New Yorkers, ” Bradshaw said. “ We saw a lot of things we’ll never forget. ”

“ We’d get on the subway and go to all the shows, ” Hays said. “ We saw Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall — that was tough duty. ”

These memories were shared all because Bradshaw thought he’d look up his old Army buddy one day. He mentioned to his daughter that he remembered Hays wanting to finish his collegiate work at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, so she called the college’s alumni department. The rest — like the things they saw and the people they met — is history.

Bradshaw and his wife live in Dalhart, Texas, on the border of New Mexico. The couple raise Black Angus, hormone-free cattle on their five ranches. Hays has lived in Bella Vista since 1993 after he retired as director of the Iowa State Employment Service.

Just two days removed from Independence Day, the two reflected on the sacrifices made by all who have served for this country.

“ We have, and I know I speak for James on this, we have the greatest respect for all people who serve past, present or future, ” Hays said. “ We just marvel at these people. ”

Their time in the service brought them more experience than they could ever imagine.

“ I was just a farm kid, and my young eyes were opened up to the world, ” Bradshaw said.

“ When people ask me if I served, I say, ‘ Well, we won, didn’t we ?’” Hays jokingly added.

Published in Reunited
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