Paul Kengor: Remembering World War II’s Bailey brothers
Several years ago, for Memorial Day 2013, I wrote in this space about the five Bailey brothers of World War II. This year, I’m probably writing about them for the last time.
Yes, there were no less than five Baileys who served in the war. That fact is known to those who attend the annual Memorial Day parade up my way, in Mercer. One exhibit has long been part of the procession: a classy old car with a placard announcing the “Five Bailey Brothers.”
Back in 2013, after several years of watching the Bailey car ride by, I took the time to track down the last survivor: Dick. I was pleasantly surprised to learn he lived in my town. I called and asked if he’d give me some time to hear and write about him and his family. He agreed.
Born Christmas Eve 1922, Dick served in World War II along with his brothers Fred, Alphonse, Jim and John. All five volunteered after Pearl Harbor and faced combat.
Fred was taken prisoner by the Nazis. “The Germans didn’t treat him well,” Dick told me. “Fred said it was horrible … . He was only 110 pounds when he came home.”
Dick was in the Army Air Corps. He and his brother John were in the war the longest. Dick served on six Pacific islands. In the Schouten Islands, the Japanese bombed almost every night, typically two hours at a time. “You didn’t sleep very much,” remembered Dick.
In all, Dick served continuously from December 1942 until January 1946: “I was never home the whole time until January 1946.”
I asked Dick about the moment he finally got home. It was the winter of 1946. He encountered a terrific snowstorm as he neared Western Pennsylvania. His parents had no idea he was headed home. Amazingly, they hadn’t heard from him in years, and he hadn’t heard from them — such were the dreadful lines of communication and secrecy. He showed up at his parents’ house at 5 a.m. His half-asleep mother scurried to the door and saw her son for the first time in four years. She cried, he cried.
Dick’s parents then informed him of something he yearned to know: All of his brothers had survived. He was the last one they were waiting on.
Unfortunately, all of Dick’s brothers now lived elsewhere, two of them newlyweds. His two sisters had also gotten married. In 1942, Dick had left a home of nine. The war emptied the Bailey household. But at least all were alive.
Dick would go on to outlive them all.
Over the last couple of years, I was curious about Dick. I often drove by and looked toward his house, the one with the giant flagpole out front. Lately, the house looked like it might be vacant.
A few months ago, I unexpectedly got an email from Dick’s grandson, Kody, noting that his grandfather had passed away a few days shy of his 95th birthday.
With Dick’s passing, the five Bailey brothers are all gone. There will no longer be a car in the Memorial Day parade with a Bailey boy wearing World War II badges. They have left us, but they leave us with the eternal hope that the entire Bailey family is united again at last.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.