Soldier killed decades ago is finally coming home
Published 8:20 am, Saturday, December 2, 2017
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Helen Francisco was just 3 years old when her older brother, Shirley "Eugene" Bailey, died in World War II.
He was one of 12 children in the family's home on the West Side of Charleston. He and two other brothers were drafted into the Army and fought in Germany at the same time.
Francisco was too young to remember her brother, but she can still remember her mother's fight to bring him home after his remains went unaccounted for after the war.
"I was little but I can remember her writing to everyone," she said.
"She never gave up looking for him (and) writing letters to the Army," Francisco's husband, Carl, said. "She had Sen. (Robert C.) Byrd write letters to the Army. We've got copies of all the letters."
Though Francisco's mother died in 1951, her family will see her dreams realized. Bailey's remains are expected to arrive at Yeager Airport, 73 years to the day after he was killed by enemy fire during a battle in Germany's Hurtgen Forest.
"I know Mom would probably be jumping up and down," Helen said.
A graveside funeral service for Bailey will be at Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar.
Bailey was 18 when he joined the Army as a medic. He treated dozens of casualties during his unit's effort to seize the northern part of the forest, according to the Department of Defense.
According to an affidavit from a man who witnessed Bailey's death, he was running to assist a wounded infantryman when he was shot in the head by enemy fire. He died instantly.
Helen has a box of old letters and telegrams from Eugene and the Army that her mother kept. She kept Eugene Bailey's dress hat, his photo, and the patches from his uniform, too.
"(There are) all kinds of letters that other officers wrote about his fearlessness on the battlefield," Carl Francisco said. "They said one time he carried the wounded off the battlefield for 14 straight hours, through minefields and fire and would not quit until he had them all back."
After his death, the battle continued, and members of Bailey's unit were unable to recover his body. He was left on the battlefield with the expectation that his remains would be recovered.
By the end of the war, though, they hadn't been, according to a medical examiner's report.
A German citizen found the body four years after his death and alerted officials, according to accounts the family has read since then.
"They don't know how he got missed because they sent a team to bring out the dead," Carl Francisco said. The forest was thick and difficult to walk through, he added.
For decades, Bailey was buried as an unknown soldier at Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium.
In October 2016, researchers from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a part of the Department of Defense aimed at accounting for those missing or captured in action, made a connection between Bailey and the remains based on where Bailey died and where the remains were recovered.
The body was disinterred and brought to the DPAA laboratory at Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska.
The Francisco family first got word six months ago of the possibility that Bailey's remains had been found. An Army representative from Fort Knox, Tennessee, called the family.
"I was all shook up," Helen said.
After collecting DNA from Helen, her sister and two of her nephews, officials positively identified Bailey's remains.
According to the Department of Defense, more than 400,000 American service members were killed during World War II and nearly 73,000 are still unaccounted for.
Bailey's name was recorded on the Tablets of the Missing, an American Battle Monuments Commission Site in the Netherlands. Officials will place a rosette by his name to indicate that he's been accounted for, the Defense department said.
"It amazes me what depth the Army went to do this," Carl Francisco said. "A lot people are down on the military, but they've spared no expense."
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.