Bill Roser Jr. | The Gazette
When their country needed their service, Norman Bragiel, 85, and his son John, 41, answered the call.
The elder Bragiel joined the Merchant Marine at the end of World War II. His son served in the Army and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Norman Bragiel was 15 in 1943 when he ran away from his home in Cleveland and doctored his birth certificate to get work on a Great Lakes freight carrier and obtain his seaman’s papers.
As World War II was coming to a close, Bragiel went to New York City and joined up with the U.S. Army Transportation Service.
He was assigned to the Army transport ship David C. Shanks. When the war was over, sailing in waters that had been war-zone waters still was hazardous because of mines.
Bragiel’s first stop was Marseille, France, to load and transport 1,500 American troops home to New York City.
The next voyage took Bragiel to Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia, to pick up 1,500 war brides — Australian women who had married American servicemen — and bring them to the U.S.
After that, Bragiel and the David C. Shanks carried cargo to many ports of call, including the Philippines, Shanghai, China and Japan. The cargo included everything from beer to food and clothing. Cargo for the trip home included artillery shells and other ammunition.
After Bragiel left the U.S. Army Transportation Service in 1949, he sailed the Great Lakes on ore boats as an employee of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company.
As chief engineer on these ships, he was in charge of all the engines and electrical machinery. He retired in 1997.
Bragiel’s son John, 41, was born and raised in Montville Township. A 1990 graduate of Highland High School, he played football under head coach Dave Poetter. He also ran track.
After graduation, Bragiel considered joining the military, but decided to give college a try and enrolled at the University of Akron.
He earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice but had lost interest in pursuing a career in law enforcement. He went on to work at the Finest Supermarket in Cuyahoga Falls.
One morning in May 1999, Bragiel woke up and decided to join the Army. He was 27 years old.
“I didn’t want to wake up five years from now and be saying to myself, ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda,’” he said. “I was in a dead-end job.
“Looking back at it, I wish I had never gone to college and joined the military right out of high school,” he said.
On July 22, 1999, Bragiel reported for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.
The next step was advanced individual infantry training with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 82nd Airborne Division.
Bragiel’s first four years in the military were spent stateside. That changed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Briegel was just getting off security duty at Fort Bragg when a soldier came running out of his room at the barracks shouting, “Oh my God, look, look — put the TV on — a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
The soldiers watched as the second plane slammed into the second tower.
“And then we heard that the Pentagon got hit, and that another plane was also hijacked”, Bragiel said. “This was obviously planned.”
Bragiel signed up a second four-year hitch. He served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2002-03, and then with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy.
Bragiel said there was a time when his outfit was the target of daily mortar and rocket attacks. When he and his unit were on patrol, they had to be on high alert for enemy ambushes and attacks by insurgents. Improvised explosive devices were a constant, deadly threat.
Most of his combat experience took place in southeastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistani border. His second deployment in Afghanistan was in 2005-06. He was honorably discharged from the Army in September 2006.
John Briegel now is a postal carrier. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Silver Lake Village in Summit County.
His father is a resident at the Western Reserve Masonic Community in Medina Township Both father and son have strong feelings about how fortunate Americans are.
“Today’s young people don’t understand how great it is to live in this country,” the father said. “They take everything for granted.”
The son agreed.
“I went into mountaintop villages that had no plumbing, no running water, no electricity. The roofs are thatched sticks with leaves,” he said. The people wash up in a river. Their pigs, their donkeys live in the same rooms that they do.”
“I remember coming through markets after going on missions in towns” he added. “There are chunks of meat for sale — not refrigerated— fly-covered and roasting in the sun. Some people in the big cities are a little better off. They have electricity, but there’s tons of garbage in the streets.
“People have no idea what they have in this country.”
John Bragiel also has strong convictions about the need for the U.S. military presence around the world.
“If anyone thinks we’re not essential all over the world, go ahead and bring every American troop home out of Korea; bring every troop home out of the Mideast, Europe, the Bosnia Kosovo region, and just see what happens.”
Contact Bill Roser Jr. at email@example.com.