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.
“You get to know these kids so well when you’re working with ‘em,” Bailey is quoted in the 1943 book, “Guadalcanal Diary” by correspondent Richard Tregaskis. “ … They’re such swell kids that when it comes to a job that’s pretty rugged, you’d rather go yourself than send them.”
“Bailey loved a fight,” Tregaskis said.
On Sept. 12, 1942, Bailey’s helmet was pierced twice as his Raiders fought to save Henderson Field, a critical U.S. air base on Guadalcanal. Despite a severe head wound, he led his men for the next 10 hours. That action brought the Medal of Honor.
On Sept. 27, though wounded again, he returned to combat and was killed by a machine gun bullet. He was 31 years old.
A comrade remembered him this way: “It was a great thrill to see him in the early dawn of our fiercest battle, still leading and urging his men forward to victory. When he lost his life he was again leading his men forward — the only direction he knew.”
He was Major Kenneth D. Bailey, USMC, of Danville, Ill.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at email@example.com.