Marine Corps Major Ken Bailey was a big, tough, fearless career officer from Danville. His First Raiders Battalion took World War II to the Japanese nearly two years before the Allies invaded Normandy.
Bailey was killed 70 years ago, on Sept. 27, 1942. Six months later, at the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, to his widow, Elizabeth.
Bailey is still being remembered by the folks back home. District 118’s alternative program is housed in the new “Kenneth D. Bailey Academy” on Main Street, the former Holy Family School.
Major Bailey is buried a few feet from my family’s plot in Spring Hill Cemetery. Through the years, I wrote about him and interviewed his sister. He was a winner, a leader, a warrior, a hero.
“Major Bailey, a tall, well-built, blue-eyed man, was the perfect picture of a fighting Marine,” said one of his men, Staff Sgt. Vasco Walters. “I have seen many colorful figures in the Southwest Pacific, but Major Bailey was one of the most memorable. As long as America continues to produce men like him, we’ll lose very few battles and never a war.”
Ken Bailey grew up at 102 Michigan Ave., and attended Oaklawn School. At Danville High, he was a member of the football and swimming teams, lettermen’s club, Booster Club, Glee Club, Student Council and yearbook staff. He graduated in 1930.
He joined the 130th Infantry, Illinois National Guard in 1932. In 1935, after graduating from the University of Illinois, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Major Bailey’s battalion attacked Japanese fortifications on Tulagi, Solomon Islands, in August 1942. According to wire service reports, he threw dynamite into a cave, killing all 35 men inside. The same day, he was wounded while attacking a machine gun nest. That action brought him the Silver Star.