USFK farewells long-serving advisor
YONGSAN ARMY GARRISON, SEOUL, South Korea — This year the U.S. and the Republic of Korea are commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Korean Armistice with a spate of events, but perhaps one of the most personal and poignant events was a quiet, private retirement ceremony held here May 15.
Diplomats, senior officials from both governments, senior military leaders, and representatives from throughout the region turned out for the retirement of one of the longest-serving Americans on the Korean peninsula during a special ceremony at Knight Field.
Stephen Bradner, special advisor to the commander, United Nations Command/ Combined Forces Command/ U.S. Forces Korea, retired after more than 50 years of service in Korea.
“As you all are aware, this year we commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Armistice, so it is only fitting that Mr. Bradner conclude his long career of service by commemorating these six decades of freedom and democracy in the Republic of Korea,” said Gen. James D. Thurman, commander, UNC/ CFC/ USFK.
“Mr. Steve Bradner is a unique national treasure for both the United States and the Republic of Korea,” said Thurman. “He has dedicated his entire professional life to the service of the United States, our great ROK-U.S. Alliance, and the stability and prosperity of the Republic of Korea. Mr. Bradner’s career will culminate with 50 years of national service and 60 years living and working in the Republic of Korea.”
After graduating Yale University with a bachelor’s in History in 1953, Bradner was commissioned into the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps and sent to Korea from 1954-1955 as a U.S. Army counter-intelligence agent, shortly after the Korean Armistice was signed. During that time he questioned captured North Korean infiltrators, conducted local liaison missions and analyzed the North Korean power structure.
“When I first came some sixty years ago, I found a war-ravaged, desperately poor country, and yet, a people whose capacity to survive was clear,” said Bradner. “Much of Seoul was in ruins. There was only one bridge across the Han. A friend of mine in the economic mission disapproved plans for a second bridge, because there was not enough traffic to fill up the first. It seems that our ideas about development were underdeveloped.”
After fulfilling his military commission, Bradner worked as a lecturer of English Literature and Western European History under the Asia Foundation at Kyongpuk National Univ., Taegu, and then returned to the U.S. from 1961-1963 to earn a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University.
In 1964, he began his career as a government civilian, returning to Seoul as an intelligence research analyst and division chief in the current affairs division at Eighth Army, and rising to the position of deputy special advisor to the commander, United Nations Command, in 1973, and special advisor to the commander, UNC, in 1981.
“In 1981, Mr. Bradner replaced James Hausman as the special advisor to the commander and has served in this capacity ever since – that’s 40 years as an advisor to 14 commanders,” said Thurman. “In those years, he saw the Republic of Korea grow from a fledgling democracy and economy to a world leader who has hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the 2010 G20 Seoul Summit, and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit … and has become one of the most capable militaries in the world with the 12th largest economy in the world.”
The 82-year-old from Providence, R.I., said he wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to see history unfold before his eyes.
“After a while I became curious how these things on the peninsula would turn out,” said Bradner. “If I hadn’t enjoyed it, I wouldn’t have stayed. Koreans are, by-and-large, a likeable sort of people, and they are moving through history at a rapid rate.”
Bradner said he had originally planned to slow down at age 66.
“Instead, we find ourselves rushing towards the final wire with an insane burst of speed,” he said.
Bradner has not only seen the dramatic and rapid change of the last 60 years in Korea, but has been a part of it, said Thurman.
“The Republic of Korea has experienced a most incredible transformation during Mr. Bradner’s lifetime, from a people and nation devastated from war, to an economic engine and global leader that continues to excel,” said Thurman. “He has not only witnessed this transformation, but has directly contributed to the partnerships and decision-making that have nurtured stability and prosperity.”
During the retirement ceremony ROK Gen. Kwon Oh-Sung, deputy commander, CFC, presented Bradner the Korean Order of National Security Merit, Gukseon Medal, on behalf of South Korean President Park Geun-hye; and Thurman presented Bradner the Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award on behalf of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. Thurman presented the Outstanding Public Service Award, also on behalf of Dempsey, to Bradner’s wife Shinja.
Bradner and his wife have two children, Andrew Bradner and Anne Geertman, and four grandchildren. Stephen and Shinja will retire to Narragansett Bay, R.I.
“If the past 60 years are indeed precious, we must acknowledge that it is the soldiers, not the politicians, who have guaranteed that which is not appreciated until it is lost – the normal daily round,” said Bradner, in his closing remarks. “Behind the ramparts you guard lies everything that matters – light and laughter, bread and family.”