Friday, September 25, 2009

Doing right by Eugene Bradley—and history

Sure, it's not in Hartford, but Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks is vital to the city, so the airport's history should matter to anyone interested in Hartford's history—especially when a mystery is involved.

In the summer of 1941, when the airport was just an Army Air Corps landing strip recently carved out of the tobacco fields north of Hartford, Lt. Eugene M. Bradley lost control of his P-40 Warhawk fighter during dogfight training—perhaps blacking out—and plunged 5,000 feet into the ground. Bradley's death, coming a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack but amid growing anticipation that the U.S. would be dragged into World War II, led to the new airfield being named after him. The exact site of his crash was forgotten, however; the Army quickly bulldozed the site after removing Bradley's body, and no marker was erected.

Now, thanks to the dogged efforts of historian Thomas Palshaw and state Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, the crash site may have been discovered. Bellantoni says ground-penetrating radar indicates that fragments from the plane are under what's now Runway 33, in a corner of airport property that juts into East Granby. The team's next step is take a core of soil from the site and analyze it.

Bellantoni made a great observation for WNPR: "Seven million people a year go through that airport, and probably not seven know the story of Eugene Bradley. We forget sometimes how many people gave their lives preparing for combat, and Bradley's one of them."

Hear the WNPR report and see a photo of Eugene Bradley here. The discovery was first reported in this Hartford Courant article. And don't forget to visit the New England Air Museum, adjacent to the airport.