YAKIMA, Wash. — Al Bradley didn’t fight in the Korean War for glory, didn’t coach youth basketball to keep busy, doesn’t drive those with limited mobility to church every Sunday just to look holy.
And when the 80-year-old accepts Yakima’s Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award today, he’ll do so for the same reason he does everything.
“I saw these as things that had to be done,” said Bradley, a longtime board member for the local chapters of the NAACP and the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Washington. “That’s all.”
He didn’t want to sit down for this interview, but it, too, had to be done. He implored the newspaper to tone the whole thing down, but it’s a story worth telling.
Bradley has never been the face of any of the organizations he’s volunteered with, which also include the Yakima County Veterans Advisory Board and Southeast Yakima Community Center, but he could always be counted on to be helping people where he was needed.
“Conversation doesn’t mean squat,” he said. “What you need to do is give the means to the people that need the help.”
Born in 1932 near Pensacola, Fla., Bradley began picking up work wherever he could at age 15 to support his mom and three siblings after his father died.
“I had a paper route, washed dishes, hawked sandwiches at the railroad station during World War II,” Bradley said. “You name it, I did it.”
Bradley attended a segregated high school before enlisting in the Army and was among the first blacks to serve in the newly integrated military. While in Korea in the early 1950s, Bradley said his platoon sergeant gave a simple mandate to erase the racial tensions between himself and a white soldier from North Carolina who shared a foxhole with him.
“He said you can either live together or die together, just that simple,” said Bradley, who went on to serve multiple tours in Vietnam. “Eventually I trusted him more than I trusted anybody else.”
Bradley left the military at age 40 while stationed at the Yakima Training Center. It was around that time he met Yakima’s first and only black mayor, Henry Beauchamp, who helped him re-adjust to civilian life and become involved in community service.
He began his new life as a laborer at the Boise Cascade mill and retired as safety manager 21 years later. In that time, Bradley raised four children with his wife, Annie Lee, while also working with hundreds of children in programs at the Southeast Yakima Community Center that promoted health and education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
He has continued in those efforts in the decades since.
“It keeps me going,” Bradley said. “And there’s a lot of need.”
Those needs are manifest in different ways, Bradley said. They could be financial, material or spiritual, he said, and in Yakima those needs appear greater than ever.
“If a person needs something, maybe even just somebody to talk to, you have to be able to listen and provide them with something tangible,” Bradley said.
Bradley will accept the MLK Service Award immediately following the MLK Peace March today. The march begins at noon at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, proceeds east down the boulevard to Eighth Street to end at the Yakima Convention Center.
A free lunch will be held at the Southeast Yakima Community Center following the event around 2 p.m.
The award is being made by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, which is comprised of various governmental, community and religious organizations. It has been in existence ever since MLK Day was first celebrated as an official national holiday in 1986.