By Maj. Korey BrownFebruary 19, 2009
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Feb. 19, 2008) -A,A As an Army officer currently serving on active duty, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize an inspirational figure in my life and one of the best Army noncommissioned officers I have ever known, my grandfather by marriage, Sgt. Maj. Charles H. Bright.
I first met Bright in 1989 when I was 20 years old, a time when I was searching for much needed direction in my life. After completing two years of college, I found myself assisting my family with debt caused by a divorce and working part-time as a "loss prevention associate" for a Sears store in Irving, Texas, without any focus on my future. Little did I know that within 30 minutes of meeting this retired sergeant major, my life would be forever changed.
I had heard stories from his granddaughter about his heroics while serving in combat in both World War II and the Korean War. Until meeting Bright, I had never been exposed to the military and especially never had the opportunity to speak to a decorated combat veteran. Needless to say, I was both curious and intimidated before my first meeting with him. I remember the day I first met Bright. I immediately knew that there was something about his stature that I definitely lacked. He was confident, disciplined, and full of pride, and I was immediately in awe of his demeanor and humble presence.
Born a son of a share cropper on Jan. 19, 1916, in Trent, Texas, Charles H. Bright was the eighth of 13 children. As a teenager, he served in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps building dams and parks on the Snake River in Oregon and later enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1939 as an "aid-man" or medic.
In 1942, shortly after earning the rank of sergeant, he deployed to World War II with the 11th Armored Infantry Regiment as a medical squad leader.A,A He served with the 11th through fighting in North Africa and Italy, including heavy action in Cassino and Anzio.
In May 1945, he was captured along with four other U.S. Soldiers by a rear guard of German SS troops in the Po Valley. After a few days in captivity, Bright persuaded his captors that a wounded German officer needed immediate medical attention and he could provide better care for him at a U.S. field hospital a few miles away. The German captors obliged and, accompanied by the German officer and driver, Bright and the four captured U.S. Soldiers were released. Because of Bright's actions while held captive, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Prisoner of War Medal, and was credited with capturing two German soldiers.
Bright returned to the United States in late 1945 and was promoted to staff sergeant. On April 16, 1947, Bright and his medical team responded to Texas City along the Gulf Coast where 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate spontaneously exploded on a French Liberty ship destroying a whole section of the city's downtown area, killing 567 people and wounding another 5,000. Because of his outstanding medical care and leadership, Bright was given a personal commendation by the mayor of Texas City for "bringing order into terrible chaos."
Bright was once again called to serve in the defense of our nation in 1951 as a member of the 2nd Infantry Division, South Korea. Upon arrival, Bright was assigned to the overcrowded and dangerous prisoner of war camp on the island of Koje-do in the Sea of Japan. A request was received from Chinese prisoners for medical assistance for an ill Chinese colonel. Because of the hazardous nature of the prison camp, Bright volunteered ahead of the camp's only American doctor stating, "No, your service is too valuable here, I'll go."A,A Unarmed and alone, Bright walked through hundreds of Chinese prisoners and tended to the Chinese officer without incident.
Once Bright's duty in the prison camp was complete, he was sent to forward areas of fierce fighting, including Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy and Heartbreak Ridge.A,A It was at Old Baldy where he received a second award of the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions in the evacuation of wounded Soldiers under intense Chinese fire, once again, "bringing order to chaos."
Bright retired in 1960 at Fort Hood, Texas, after 22 years of selfless service. He moved his family to Austin, Texas, where he secured a job as a night watchman at the Texas Capitol. His talents for organization, his fierce pride, discipline, and his leadership abilities were quickly recognized and he served at the state capitol for another 17 years, retiring as a captain of security with numerous commendations.
Grandpa Bright passed away on May 26, 2006, 15 months after I completed my first combat tour in Iraq. As part of his eulogy, his two sons spoke very proudly of their father's military service and the life he later led. As a sign of respect and continuity, I placed the Army dog tags that I wore in Iraq in his coffin.
Bright lived the Army values and displayed each of them every day of his life, even after his military service was over. Because of his devotion to his family and his untiring patriotism and commitment to his country, I will remember Charles Bright as a true warrior. Unfortunately, I never told him the impact he made on my life or how after one short meeting in 1989, when I needed direction in my life, he unknowingly motivated me to follow closely in his footsteps to be the best person and Soldier I can.
Having been a noncommissioned officer myself, I know that through his actions, Charles Bright was not only one of the finest Medical Corps noncommissioned officers, but one of the best in the Army.
Editor's note: During the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, the Fort Leavenworth Lamp is seeking essays from Command and General Staff College students and others about NCOs who have inspired or influenced officers' careers, as well as stories about NCOs who later became officers. Send ideas or essays to firstname.lastname@example.org.