My dad would be 119 years old if he were still living today. The Herald Bulletin’s recent front-page article on the start of World War I a century ago jogged my memories of his tales of serving in World War I, not to mention the realization I have more in common with Bob Quinn than our respective newspaper experiences.
World War I was declared in July 1914. U.S. entry into that conflict didn’t happen until 1917. My dad, born and reared in Oklahoma, was living with his brothers in Minnesota, operating a farm near the town of Roosevelt, near the Canadian border. Thus he was drafted from Minnesota for military service.
Dad was never robust. But the joke goes that the Army will take you if you’re breathing (those of the post-draft era have never had to deal with that, of course). So he became one of the doughboys in the trenches of Europe, famed for fighting in the trenches and going “over the top” by climbing out as they advanced to take the higher ground.
Dad loved to tell stories of his Army days even though he hated the war, which left him initially with a partial disability. He often said his commanding officer had it in for him and gave him the kind of details most commonly described by a four-letter word. I can relate. When I was in basic training I could see the training sergeants salivating as I repeatedly fell off the monkey bars on my first day in my unit.
As it worked out, though, Dad won a Distinguished Service Cross in part from being “encouraged” to put himself in harm’s way.
Their unit was under heavy fire, and Dad described the way the bullets were going “ping-ping-ping” over their heads. “My C.O. finally said, ‘Bailey, how about going for help?’” he related. “‘I said, ‘Is this a request or a command, sir?’ He said, ‘Take it any way you wish.’” Dad got the message and took off with bullets ping-ping-pinging around him.
His citation mentioned another episode as well. I came across a copy of it online recently:
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Corporal Ernest O. Bailey (ASN: 2155676)), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company E, 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, A.E.F., near Premont, France, 9 October 1918; and near Molain, France, 17 October 1918. When his company was held up by machine-gun fire, Corporal Bailey carried a message across open ground to a tank commander, whose tank brought the needed support for reducing the nests. On 17 October 1918, in company with an officer, he braved intense shell fire to rescue a wounded soldier.”
The medal hangs on my wall today.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.