Linda Bradford with a photo of her son Michael Bradford, a US Civilian Contractor and US Army Sgt, that was killed in Kabul Afghanistan on May 13. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
In the three years Linda Bradford has lived in Johnson City, Veterans Park has always been special, due in part to her son’s Army service and being a private contractor with the military in the Middle East.
But with her son’s death two weeks ago in Afghanistan, the names listed at the Johnson City veterans memorial have a whole new meaning.
Michael Robert Bradford, 26, was one of six U.S. citizens — two military and four contractors — killed in a May 16 suicide blast in Kabul. Linda Bradford said her son and the others were heading to a training site to work with Afghan military.
She first learned about the blast that morning when she pulled up the Internet and saw a national story on it.
“The first thing I saw was a story about six killed in Kabul. I knew it was him. At 3:15 p.m., I got a call from his dad,” she said. That call only confirmed what Bradford said she already knew — her son was gone.
Bradford said her son spent his whole adult life either in the military or working with DynCorp, a military contractor. He served five years in the Army as a linguist, leaving in 2011 as a sergeant, then the last three with the contractor conducting training for the Afghan military.
“I am so proud,” Bradford said Thursday while visiting Veterans Park. She knows her son’s name will not be on the memorial there, but it’s already on a brick at a veterans memorial in his hometown, Fort Thomas, Ky.
She said her son had big dreams when his contract expired in November, but those dreams — which included re-enlisting or working with the State Department — will never be realized.
Bradford was due home in early June for the birth of his first child, a son who will now bear the name of a man he’ll never meet.
“He was excited. He could not wait to be a dad and he was so scared at the same time,” Linda Bradford said about her son. Her son’s widow, Sasha Bradford, closed up the couple’s Georgia home and returned to Fort Thomas to be closer to family. That’s where Michael Robert Bradford Jr. will be born, Linda Bradford said.
It’s also where her son’s memorial was held last Friday. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in late June, she said. Bradford said she appreciates the 1,000-plus who attended her son’s memorial, as well as a Rolling Thunder tribute for him earlier last week.
“Their mission was peace and to help these people enjoy the freedom we have,” Linda Bradford said about her son’s work. “They wanted to be free, and that’s what he was teaching them to do.”
For Bradford, Veterans Park is more than memorials with names on them.
“When I first came to Johnson City, I just walked around and looked at the names. I don’t know them, but I know,” the sacrifice they made, she said. “They’re more than just a name for me now.”
Bradford said she hopes residents in the area will stop at the memorial and read the names of military veterans killed in war.
“Everyone of these people made the ultimate sacrifice, just like my son,” she said. “I haven’t given up my faith. I know everything happens for a reason. I feel like God needed him more.”
Bradford said there is a memorial fund set up for her first grandchild. It’s the Michael Bradford Memorial, ? Victory Community Bank, 602 S. Fort Thomas Ave. No. 2, Fort Thomas, KY 41075. The phone number for the bank is 859-442-8900.