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At just 17, Bob Bailey lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Now at 88, it’s a day he has never forgotten.
He was only 16 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. His father vouched for his age so he could enlist before he was old enough.
Bailey was stationed at Hickam Field, adjacent to Pearl Harbor Naval Base. A wire fence was all that divided the two. He used to go across the fence to Pearl Harbor to buy commodities because they were cheaper.
According to the National Parks Service, during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack, half the airplanes at Hickam Field were lost or damaged and several hangars and other buildings were hit. A total of 121 men were killed at Hickam, including 35 in a mess hall during breakfast, and 274 were wounded.
On that morning, Bailey thought all the commotion was the Navy doing some sort of activity but it was the Japanese.
Usually on Sunday mornings he would sleep in, but that particular morning he went to the mess hall for breakfast. When he came out he saw everything going on at Pearl Harbor. He stood there at least 10 minutes before he realized what was happening.
Then he saw a plane fly out of a dive, come across at tree-top levels and drop a torpedo on a consolidated mess hall. More than 500 soldiers were in the mess hall, he said.
People don’t seem to understand it could have been a torpedo, he said.
“But it’s a fact,” he said. “I watched it. I’ve seen it.”
He wonders how many are still around who were at Pearl Harbor and figures there’s probably only a few left.
He can remember hearing President Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war.
“I never will forget that,” he said.
He remembers hearing Roosevelt describe what had happened at Pearl Harbor and then state that he had asked congress for a declaration of war.
What made the U.S. a great nation was World War II, he said.
He served in the Pacific during the remainder of the war, mostly doing reconnaissance and a little fighting.
When the war ended, there weren’t a lot of jobs because so many former service men were seeking employment.
After getting out of the Army, he was on his last beer and his last dollar when someone told him congress passed a bill for 20-year retirement from the armed forces and that he could retire a young man.
“That caught my mind,” he said.
When he went into the Army, he got $21 a month but was offered a $300 bonus to re-enlist.
“That was a lot of money back then,” he said.
He re-enlisted and not long after, the Korean War began. He served in the 2nd Infantry Division, one of the first groups that went into the Korean War, he said.
He was only in Korea about four months before he was wounded.
Bailey later retired while at Fort Knox and lived in Radcliff until four years ago, when he and his wife moved into Allegro Senior Living.
“During the time I was in the service I saw a lot of the world,” he said, which included Europe and Alaska.
Bailey said he “grew up” in the service and was enlisted 22 years.
“Today I still love the service,” he said.
Bailey didn’t have a trade when he got out of the Army so he began selling Volkswagens.
The Baileys never had children but have spent 66 years together.
When he was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan. training recruits, he walked into the PX and noticed a girl behind the checkout, Ardith. They married in 1946.
“It’s something — the way you meet each other,” he said. “I love her today as much as I did back then.”
You have to love a person to marry them, he said. It’s worked all these years because their love is strong and two have become one, he said.
When he looks back at his life and his time in the Army, Bailey said he’d do it all again today if he had the chance.
“To be my age and from what I’ve seen, I’ve seen my part,” he said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or email@example.com.
Getting to know Bob Bailey: