WWII/Vietnam Veteran Master Sgt. Cletis Bailey, Air Force - Photographer Ricky Davis
WWII & Vietnam Veteran - Master Sgt. Cletis Bailey
Meeting Mr. Bailey has been one of the most pleasurable experiences that I have had. This man is so good natured and friendly. His was a very interesting story and actually spans two of America's biggest conflicts as he served not only in World War II, but he also served two tours in Vietnam.
"I was drafted and took my basic training in Camp Blanding, Florida. About seventeen weeks of intensive training and pretty soon I found myself in Germany. I was assigned to the 84th Infantry Division and that was at the tail end of The Battle of the Bulge. I think I joined up with them in Belgium and then we went into Germany, up on the Roer River. We kinda dug in there and waited for the crossing. It had flooded. I joined as a replacement. Later on, when the situation had normalized, we made that river crossing and headed on into Germany. :
"Being in infantry, we did a lot of walking. The main activity that I was involved is was there was three of us after we finally took this town. We had lost 8 or 9 men taking that town. It was well defended with German paratroopers. After we had finally crossed the field, there was three of us assigned to go back across that field because we was short of ammunition. I didn't volunteer for that either. I didn't have a chance to back out. So anyway, we made it but there was a German sniper firing at us all the way over there. You could see the bullets hitting in between us. So one of the guys said I ain't about to go back over there. We'll get killed. But with all the stuff happening over there, tree bursts and mortars we'll surely get killed if we'd stayed over there. So we made it back across the field. But with all the shelling coming in, when we were heading out one of the guys up ahead got decapitated. "
"At the end of the War I was at the Elbe River. I came back to the States in 46, and stayed in the reserves for a little bit. I was working in Chattanooga but all of my friends had gotten out or left, so I decided to get back in the service. I went and got a little better education and then I was able to get in the Air Force. I still keep in contact with two or three guys I served in the 84th with. One of them was talking about when we shared a hole on the river. The Germans were across the river and they'd take shots across the river. They called us 'Roosevelt's Henchmen'. They say 'Roosevelt's Henchmen we're going to annihilate you.' So that was interesting. The was my introduction to German soil. That's where I earned my combat infantry.
I feel like I really played a small role. We had lost so many men, that's why I was selected as a replacement because we'd lost so many men at the Battle of the Bulge. They are the ones the did it. It was tragic as it was getting close to the end and losing so many men. I loved the old timers. One fella that I had hunkered down with the night before taking one stinking town, he got killed. Another one told his buddy that he had a feeling that he wasn't going to make it. They called him Chief because he was Indian. He got killed taking this town. They told him to just stay back, but he said no. I've been with you this long. He had been with them a real long time. That's the way it happens some times. "
"In Vietnam, it was a lot different. I didn't have to go on any patrols or anything like that. It was a different story in Vietnam though. I had a desk job, I was in accounting and finance taking care of military pay and travel. I needed some information from personnel next door. I walked over there and was talking to the sergeant and got what I needed. I stepped back outside and a rocket came in and took off the whole end of the building. It killed him. That was pretty close. So you never knew when you were gonna get it over there. Whether you were at a desk or out with the infantry in the field. The rockets were always coming in. But I led kind of a charmed life over there. I'm glad to be here, I'm glad to be anywhere, I enjoy living. "
To finish talking with Mr. Bailey I asked him "with serving in both World War II and in Vietnam, what was the difference in the way that the soldiers were treated coming back from the war."
"That was a different story wasn't it? That war just wasn't accepted. So Vietnam Veterans just got the short end of the stick so to speak, they got mistreated. Through no fault of their own, we were just doing our job. It was a lot of politics I think. We lost a lot of men over there. I went to Washington DC and visiting the Memorial. I found Sgt. Dark's name, the fella that got killed, and I made an impression. "
I thoroughly enjoyed my time speaking with and listening to Mr. Bailey. He had so much life and zeal about him. He really brought a ray of light into my world and I hope that his story resonates with you and touches you as well.
If you know any World War II Veterans, Korean Veterans, or Vietnam Veterans, I would love to include them in my project and share their story. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org