Jeff Jardine

November 9, 2013

Jeff Jardine: Atwater couple share history of service to country

Atwater residents Ted and Philida Brodalski can swap war stories like few other couples. The Brodalskis on Monday will celebrate Veterans Day as a couple of veterans proud of each other’s service to the country.

Generally, the husband is the World War II veteran in the family with stories to tell.

Ted Brodalski proudly displays the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal he earned as a Marine on Iwo Jima. It is framed along with the others he earned in a military career that spanned three decades.

But his wife, Philida, can match his campaign medal and raise him four.

“I’ve got five,” she boasts. “He’s only got one.”

Philida served as an Army nurse who landed on the beaches of Normandy just 10 days after the June 6, 1944, invasion that began the end of the war in Europe. Over the next 11 months, she earned medals for the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe campaigns.

Indeed, the Brodalskis on Monday will celebrate Veterans Day as a couple of veterans and veteran couple who are proud of each other’s service to the country and who remain best friends after 68 years of marriage. He is 88. She is 93.

Ted joined the Marines in 1942, spending his first two years in extensive training in the States. He was aboard ship when U.S. forces raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi and was a sergeant when he hit the beach four days into the initial invasion.

Philida joined the Army Nurses Corps in February 1943 and, after training exercises in the Louisiana swamps she claims were worse than her experience in Europe, went to work in a military hospital in England. As the battle raged across the English Channel following the Normandy invasion, her outfit prepared to follow.

“I remember they put us on a Liberty Ship where you climbed on board using a rope net,” she said. “I looked up and there was a woman who weighed about 200 pounds right above me. I was thinking, ‘Uh oh ...’ We landed on the beach the next morning. Everything was still on the beach.”

That included war machinery and war dead. They set up a tent hospital to deal with the wounded. “That first night, we treated 300 patients,” she said. “There were just too many to handle.”

She rated the severity of their wounds and put them on a boat that took them back to England. Others needed more immediate care. “We had what we called a ‘shock tent,’” Philida said. “It was the beginning of the ICU (intensive care unit). That is when it started.”

German fighter pilots strafed the tent hospital despite the Red Cross on the canvas roof. “We went into foxholes,” she said. “A (soldier) said, ‘Hey, I dug this.’ And we said, ‘Yeah, and you’ve got a couple of guests.’”

Such mobile hospitals frequently packed up and moved, following the 1st Army under Gen. Omar Bradley and, later, Gen. Courtney Hodges. In fact, the Allied forces advanced so rapidly toward the end that her outfit was flown 200 miles to catch up with the front.

As patients arrived, the nurses took their weapons, ammo and grenades, Philida said, piling them in camp. One hospital location had to be cleared of land mines after some detonated during setup.

Hospital visitors included Hollywood stars Mickey Rooney and Marlene Dietrich, who came to chat with the wounded and support morale.

She endured the concussion of German artillery in France, the freezing cold of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, avoiding frostbite thanks to a soldier who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. “A lieutenant asked me what size boots I wore,” she said. “I said, ‘Eight.’ He said, ‘I’m going to give these to you. I’m going home.’ I wore them all the way across Europe.”

Her unit was headed toward Nordhausen in May 1945 when Germany surrendered.

“Our war ended in Leipzig on an airfield,” Philida said.

She returned to the United States, assigned to a military hospital in Massachusetts.

Ted Brodalski rose to staff sergeant in the Marines and was preparing to invade Japan when the U.S. ended the war in the Pacific by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He, too, returned to the States in 1945.

They dated briefly, and then he returned to the Marines in 1946, staying in two more years.

“You’d figure there’s got to be this great, exotic story about how I met her and swept her off her feet,” Ted said. “There isn’t.”

They’d lived next door before going off to war. Her younger brother was one of his best friends. Philida and Ted married soon after he switched from the Marines to the Air Force in 1948. He eventually landed at Castle Air Force Base, which is what brought them to California.

Philida’s military days ended when she became pregnant with their first of two daughters.

“Tells you how stupid I was,” Ted joked. “She was making $300 a month (in a stateside hospital). I was making $75. When she got pregnant, they discharged her. Now, there were three of us living on $75 a month. That’s how stupid I was.”

He retired from the Air Force in 1965 and started a real estate business. She added the duties of part-time office manager to full-time mom.

In the mid-1990s, a documentary crew came from France to interview her about her experiences.

They have so many stories to tell and remember the details vividly.

A couple of veterans. A veteran couple.

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