Medal of Honor recipient’s name lives on at NUWC Keyport

Willis Bradley served as base C.O., governor of Guam, member of Congress

KEYPORT — A conference room at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division – Keyport has been named in honor of Capt. Willis W. Bradley (1884-1954), a Medal of Honor recipient, twice senior officer at Keyport, governor of Guam and member of Congress.

When the conference room — where meetings take place regarding maintenance and innovations of torpedoes — was remodeled with new equipment, some Keyport employees involved decided to find a suitable namesake for whom to dedicate it, the base’s public affairs office reported. Bradley, who also has a street at Naval Base Kitsap-Keyport named for him, was chosen as a Keyporter who exemplified “warfighter support, technical excellence, and personal courage.”

Bradley, a native of Ransomville, New York, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906 and was commissioned an ensign. While serving on the USS Culgoa (AF-3), he aided survivors of the 1908 Messina, Italy, earthquake. For his work rescuing survivors and clearing debris, he received a medal from Pope Pius X.

On 23 July 1917, while serving aboard USS Pittsburgh, an accidental explosion of cartridges left Bradley temporarily unconscious. When he was able to come to, Bradley crawled into the space where the explosive charges were burning and extinguished multiple fires, preventing further explosions and possibly the loss of his ship. For this “extraordinary heroism,” he received the Medal of Honor.

Bradley served as senior military officer at NUWC Keyport, what was then called the Pacific Coast Torpedo Station, from 1919-20 and 1922-24. From Keyport, he went on to command several ships, served as governor of Guam from 1929-31, and served as commanding officer of Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard.

As governor of Guam, he issued Guam’s first Bill of Rights; sought U.S. citizenship for Chamorros, the island’s indigenous people; reorganized the Guam Congress; and created the island’s postal service. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from California from 1947-49, and in the California State Assembly from 1952 until his death in 1954. The USS Bradley (FF-1041) was named in his honor.

Bradley’s grandson, Capt. Bruce McCandless II, USN (ret.), McCandless’ wife, and grandson traveled from Colorado for the dedication, and were joined by members of the USS Bradley Association.

McCandless told the other attendees about his family’s history, memories of his grandfather and father (who also was a senior Navy officer and Medal of Honor recipient), and his grandfather’s advocacy for the torpedo’s importance in naval warfare, something not always appreciated in the decades before World War II.

McCandless own life was as historically significant as his grandfather’s. A 1958 Naval Academy graduate and Navy aviator, he was selected to NASA’s astronaut program in 1966, flew on two Space Shuttle flights, and logged more than 312 hours in space, including performing the first untethered spacewalk. Photos of McCandless during that walk, his face obscured by the reflective screen on his helmet, are iconic images of the space program.

During Bradley’s tour, Keyport’s workforce was about 80 civilians, 30 enlisted sailors, and 18 Marines, all on the Kitsap Peninsula. Nearly 100 years later, NUWC Keyport has more than 2,000 employees at facilities in Washington state, California, Guam, Hawaii, British Columbia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, and personnel working in several other states and countries.

Bradley’s Medal of Honor citation

For extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving on the USS Pittsburgh, at the time of an accidental explosion of ammunition on that vessel. On 23 July 1917, some saluting cartridge cases were being reloaded in the after casemate: through an accident an explosion occurred. Cmdr. Bradley (then Lieutenant), who was about to enter the casemate, was blown back by the explosion and rendered momentarily unconscious, but while still dazed, crawled into the casemate to extinguish burning materials in dangerous proximity to a considerable amount of powder, thus preventing further explosions.