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Honoring Veterans: ‘Marine-for-life’ Matthew Bradford defies grave injuries, makes history

On Veteran’s Day Nov. 11, Americans pause to celebrate all the men and women who have served in the U.S. military. In the days leading up to this official national holiday, KyForward pauses to celebrate some of the Kentuckians counted among those heroes.

By Laura Shrake
KyForward correspondent


Cpl. Matthew Bradford was a freshman at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester on Sept. 11, 2001. He learned from a friend what had happened in New York City, but did not fully understand until he got home that afternoon and turned on the news. Watching footage of people leaping from the collapsing Twin Towers, Bradford decided to enlist in the military.


“From that moment on, I just realized that I wanted to serve and defend my country,” Bradford said. “They brought these terrorist acts to the United States where my family and friends live and threatened all of our lives.”



Matthew Bradford (Photo provided)

Bradford joined the delayed entry program with the U.S. Marine Corps in December 2004. After graduating high school in 2005, he went to boot camp in Paris Island, S.C. on Sept. 6 – the same day his classmates went back to school.


After graduating in December of that year, he was sent to the Camp Geiger School of Infantry in North Carolina and deployed to Haditha, Iraq, in September 2006.


“We deployed [into] a very hostile area,” Bradford said. “We got shot at every day, a lot of explosions and people getting killed and wounded.”


Four months later, on Jan. 18, 2007, Bradford and his team were walking down a road next to a compound on the Euphrates River when he saw a white bag leaning against a tree about 30 feet in front of him. After warning the team, he turned back around to see wires coming from under the road.


Moments later, the device exploded under his feet.


The blast took his left leg above the knee and severely damaged his right, which was later amputated. Shrapnel from the explosion blinded him. He had broken bones in his hand, and damage to his abdomen led to the removal of a piece of his small intestine. His bladder was ruptured and his stomach was bruised.


Bradford was in a U.S. hospital three days after his injury. When he awoke from his medically-induced coma, his injuries were not the only thing on his mind.



“When I first found out about my injuries, I had the guilt of leaving my friends behind [in Iraq],” Bradford said. “I also didn’t like waking up and knowing that I didn’t have any legs. When they told me that, I was crushed.”


His road to recovery started with a bout of depression, but he pushed through the hardest parts, thanks to many who helped him.


“I realized I was only 20 years old, that I still had a long life ahead of me,” Bradford said. “Anything a normal person can do, I can do.”


Two months later on March 21, he left the hospital to start physical and occupational therapy, determined to learn to walk again before tackling his vision loss. Five months after the explosion in Iraq, Bradford was standing on his prosthetic legs for the first time. By December of 2008, he had learned independent mobility, Braille and how to operate a computer. In 2009, he walked 10 miles in the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, N.M.


On April 7, 2010, Bradford became the first blind, double amputee in the history of the Marine Corps to reenlist.


Deploying and fighting on the front lines for his country was what Bradford enlisted to do. But when his injuries prevented him from that, he reenlisted to help other wounded soldiers just as others helped him. He was stationed for two years at the Wounded Warrior Battalion – East Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to “help and mentor young wounded warriors.”


“I had help that got me through depression, a Marine whose job was to do that. He would come talk to me day in and day out, and that’s what I wanted to do for others,” Bradford said. “Just to be there and be a friend and not be a random Marine. I wanted to be a brother of theirs.”


In 2011, Bradford traveled back to Iraq once more for a closure trip with Operation Proper Exit. After the trip, he retired from the Marines, married his girlfriend and added a child to their family.


“The amputated legs and the blindness, it’s worth it now because [my kids and wife] are going to get a chance to live in a free country,” he said. “Everything I did, it’s for [them].”


At the end of his near seven-year military career, not putting on his uniform was one of the toughest aspects of returning to civilian life for a man who enjoyed every minute of his time in the Marines.


“It helped me grow up a lot, especially getting blown up … I never had any goals planned, I had just planned on doing 20 years in the Marine Corps and seeing where it takes me from there,” he said. “But when I got hurt, I had to quickly decide what I wanted to do.”


Bradford said he tries to live for today, keep a positive attitude and show others what hard work can do.


“Just being a Marine, I have that mentality of never quit, the honor, courage, commitment,” Bradford said. “ … You’re a Marine for life.”


This Marine-for-life is now working toward his next career — in broadcasting. He is pursuing a communications and history degree at the University of Kentucky and lives in Lexington with his wife and three children.


Laura Shrake is a University of Kentucky junior journalism and Spanish major from West Chester, Ohio.


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One Comment

  1. Ronnie Lawrence says:

    I have just met you and your wife at Bar Louie’s. Lovely couple from what I could tell. Good luck in your future. If there’s anything I can do please look me up. Thanks again for your service.

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