Sitting quietly in his room at the North Carolina Veterans Home in Fayetteville, wearing his Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10630 Hope Mills hat, this former sergeant thumbs through the day’s newspaper.
But back in 1944, World War II led every headline, and Alfred Brafford of Rocky Mount was newly married when he was drafted and became an “enlisted man,” ready and willing to serve his country. Brafford headed to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas for his Army training. An orphan, Brafford spent his youth working on a dairy farm, so he was ready for the hard work that came along with being in the Army and had his mind set on learning artillery.
“I thought I was ready for the big guns, but my eyes weren’t good enough, bad eyes,” Brafford laments. “So I couldn’t do artillery. The Army works like an Army, and you have to learn and accept that you may have to kill people in war. I have fired and practiced, but I have never shot a gun in anger.”
Brafford’s journey of service continued from Arkansas to Illinois and then finally to Boston before boarding a ship to England and onward to France, where the war raged. His orders led him to the 199th General Hospital in Rennes, France, where he worked in medical records.
“I was a records keeper, and we kept track of all the soldiers that came in and out of the hospital,” Brafford recalls. “It was long hours and a lot of paperwork. We were busy, because the war was red hot then. France was in ruins, battered to hell, but the people made do. It’s what war can do.”
The days were long at the hospital, but Sgt. Brafford labored on. He remembers how cigarettes and soap were valuable commodities for the soldiers and that a regular meal usually included Brussels sprouts, which is still not his favorite, and how ice cream was hard to get, but it remains one of his favorites.
“I supervised one section, and one day we took in a train load of wounded, discharged them and put them on a ship back to the U.S.,” he says.
Brafford carried out his duty at the French hospital until the war ended in September 1945, but he wasn’t sent back home right away. He ended up at a base in Birmingham, Alabama, to finish his Army service. By the end of the year, he was finally headed home to North Carolina and his bride.
“When I came home and saw my wife waiting for me at Fort Bragg,” Brafford says, “after I had been gone for more than a year, that was special, I’ll never forget how she looked that day. She looked like an angel.”
Brafford celebrates his 101st birthday this month and 75 years of marriage with his wife, Edith. He studied textiles at N.C. State University and settled into textile mill jobs in Hope Mills. He still had service in his heart after his return from the war, settling in Hope Mills and serving as the town’s mayor and commissioner for seven terms.
“I have had a good life,” says Brafford with a thoughtful gaze, turning the pages of a photo album, “a good family, good friends and Hope Mills is home.”