Hard Corps: Brothers, Marines, will serve in Iraq

Kristina Hughes News-Review staff writer

ALANSON - Melody Bradley recently shared a few hugs and tears with her son, John McClellan, who leaves for Iraq in a few weeks.

Left to right: John McClellan, Will Bradley, Dominic McClellan

In the next year, she will swallow back more tears and say goodbye as two more of her sons will leave for Iraq.

“I pray and cry,” Bradley said. “I'm proud of them for serving. But when they leave, it gets harder.”

Brothers John McClellan, 27, Dominic McClellan, 25, and Will Bradley, 20, are part of a greater brotherhood in the Marines.

“We're best friends, brothers and Marines,” John said. “We can relate on another level, not just as brothers.”

Growing up in Alanson, the three brothers pretended to be military men. They donned camouflage and played with toy guns and often wrestled each other. Nearly two decades later, they share a similar crew cut and uniform.

Recently, Melody and Bill Bradley's Alanson home is like a revolving hotel, where the young men stop in during military leaves from boot camp or overseas duty. Recently John, a lance corporal, came home before his deployment, and Dominic, also a lance corporal, came for a surprise visit.

“I love having them home, but it's bittersweet when you know you're saying goodbye,” Melody said.

When they are home, Melody is always ready to serve her sons' favorite meals, from breakfast burritos to homemade lasagna. The aroma of homemade foods and laughter fills the home.

But in the last few years, it's been difficult for Melody to recall when all three sons were under one roof.

“When we are home we have so many acronyms it's like another language,” John said. “My mom doesn't know what we're talking about.”

Before they were military men, Melody remembers when the boys practiced softball in the backyard and made tents in the living room with their sister, Ange Roberts, 24.

“They grew up so fast,” Melody said.

Brave Boys

Growing up, John and Dominic have always been two peas in a pod. If John was involved, you could count on Dominic being by his side.

The brothers enjoyed playing sports and rough-housing around the house.

“Dominic and I were especially close, if one of us was getting in trouble the other was right there with him,” John said.

“I wanted to be cool like John,” Dominic added.

Melody remembers the duo's pranks. She would ground the two and in turn they would bring in the wood for the fire and do double the chores. Another time, Bill made John and Dominic hold hands and walk through the grocery store after their fighting grew tiresome.

“John and Dom, they gave me a run for my money,” Melody said with a laugh.

“They sure did,” Bill added.

After graduating from Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, John said he was lost and worked several seasonal jobs before making a change. After some soul searching, John was 23 when he entered the Marines. The decision was life altering.

“I learned I'm capable of doing a lot more than I thought I could,” John said.

Dominic enlisted shortly after John. The “grunt” life quickly suited both brothers.

“We were close before, but we are definitely closer now,” Dominic said. “Not everybody can be a Marine.”

When Will graduated from Northern Michigan Christian Academy in 2005, he was ready for his Marine crew cut and uniform. He signed up and shipped off for basic training. Today, Will and Dominic are both stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms, in southern California. John is stationed at Camp Pendleton.

Dom and John said they knew Will would be a Marine.

“Little ‘Willy,' wanted to be a Marine forever. He came out of my mother's womb bragging about it,” Dominic said.

Will would like to think his brothers are following his dream. When Will was 12, he painted pictures of Marines and slogans on his bedroom walls.

“I knew it was God's will for me,” he said.

Growing up, Will, or Bert as his older brothers call him, was a tough runt. He remembers rough-housing with his older brothers and following the two around. But he was the “baby brother” known for his impersonations.

The brothers are now in their 20s and Will is still the jokester.

Dominic, recalls the time when Will was 6 and danced to “Taking Care of Business” at a sporting event.

“Willy, he's quite the character. He's always got something to say and loves impersonations,” Dominic said.

John, on the other hand, is the strong quiet type.

“He's got a big heart on the inside even though he's a tough guy,” Melody said. She mentions how John was watching over her after surgery.

Melody smiles as she names off their personality traits. “Dominic's the talker,” Melody said. “Will's the comedian and John is shy.”

The three brothers may be very different but at the core they share a pride in being Marines.

“There is no brotherhood like the Marines,” Will said. “We're the toughest, most respected branch.”

As Marines, the three brothers will be on the front lines in Iraq. John will leave first in the next few weeks, Dominic should be deployed in the next few months. Will's branch is scheduled to relieve John's unit. But the schedule could change pending on the president's orders.

The brothers are proud but worried.

“I wish (my brothers) didn't have to go,” John said. “But, I know they trained well and their friends and Marines are with them.”

Dominic will leave for his second tour of duty. While he was In Iraq for his first tour, the e-mails and calls from his brothers lifted his spirits. John tried to keep in touch weekly. “Of course I told (Dominic) I loved him,” he said.

When Dominic came home to base, Will surprised him in the barracks with a big bear hug.

Dominic, who doesn't talk much about the experience, noted how it has changed him.

“In Iraq, I always had my rifle by my side and it's just weird knowing you can wake up and nobody is going to kill you,” Dominic said.

He remembers the Marines and friends they lost, and has stayed in touch with their wives or families on base. He celebrates their lives and memories on their birthdays and the day they were killed in duty.

“It's given me such a greater amount of respect for life. A better attitude,” Dominic said. “Losing friends, it's hard. ... My outlook on life is different from before I joined the Marines.”

The brothers recognize the risk associated with serving their country. But they choose to serve. Their parents support their choice.

“She (mom) says, we're always in her prayers,” John said. “ I know she's not looking forward to all three of us being over there. She's proud, but she's a mom.”

Melody keeps her sons in her prayers and relishes their visits.

“I'm just really proud and pleased with the way they have grown up and how they want to serve their country.”

But sometimes it can be hard knowing her sons will be leaving.

“I have a lot of good days and some rough days. The closer it gets until one leaves, I get more emotional and cry more,” she said.

Kristina Hughes can be reached at 439-9348, or khughes@petoskeynews.com.