BLUEFIELD — World War II had an incredible impact on all aspects of life in the United States, forcing the military to take some dramatic steps to prevent some land grant universities from potentially falling into bankruptcy because of a lack of male students entering the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
David Bailey of Bluefield, who was drafted in November 1942, was one of the young men that the U.S. Army selected to participate in the Army Specialized Training Program — a program created by the military to provide a group of educated leaders to assume leadership roles in a post war world. The Army tested soldiers for the program and selected those with an IQ of 120 or better for the ASTP. In April, the Army sent Bailey to Alabama Polytechnic Institute for Military Government and later to Clemson A&M for engineering.
Bailey, who attended Bluefield College and Washington and Lee University before he was drafted, wasn’t alone in taking the leap from the draft into the ASTP. Notable alumni of the program include some of the great minds of the 20th Century including former U.S. Senator Bob Doyle, actor Mel Brooks, New York Mayor Ed Koch, author Kurt Vonnegut who wrote “Slaughterhouse Five” after surviving the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany, Nobel Laureate and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and even former West Virginia Governor Arch Moore.
Bailey received 13 weeks of basic training, and like most of the 150,000 soldiers in the ASTP, his nation called upon him to stand a post in combat to replace the growing number of casualties that depleted the strength of combat units in the field. The Army sent Bailey to the 106th Infantry Division, and assigned him to Company F, 422nd Infantry Regiment. Bailey left the U.S. on Nov. 10, 1944, arrived in England seven days later and shipped off to France in the first week of December. On Dec. 10, 1944, he arrived at St. Vith, Belgium.
David Bailey is a member of a rather prominent Bluefield and southern West Virginia family. His father, R. Lake Bailey, was a coal industry pioneer and his uncle, E.L. Bailey, was a self-made millionaire who developed Bluefield-based Bailey Lumber Co., in 1912, and expanded the business to serve several locations throughout the southern West Virginia coalfields.
“The division went on line the next day at the Scene Eifel, a wooded, snow-covered ridge of the Ardennes Forest covering a 27-mile front that bordered Germany and was just northeast of Luxembourg,” Bailey wrote in a letter dated Dec. 1. He now lives in Alexandria, and from 2010-’12, he served as national president of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Inc. He wrote the letter just prior to leaving for Belgium/Luxembourg with a group of battle veterans and their families who will participate in the Dec. 16, 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
“The Army at this time (December 1944) used the Ardennes to acquaint newcomers, like the 106th, with some of the milder elements of infantry warfare — such as observing and patrolling,” Bailey wrote. “Although the Germans had launched their initial 1940 blitzkrieg attack on France through the Ardennes, faulty Allied intelligence indicated the Germans would not be capable of launching a winter offensive in 1944. The Ardennes region was (then) considered a quiet sector by the Allies, suitable for training units newly arrived at the front.”
The war news on Dec. 15, 1944 as reported by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph indicated that Allied troops were advancing into Germany. In the Pacific, U.S. troops made a successful amphibious landing on Mindoro Island in the Philippines, and faced a small force of Japanese soldiers with little resistance from the Imperial Navy. The photographs of military personnel killed or missing in action remained a constant, but the war effort appeared to be experiencing success.
“Needless to say and against all odds, in the early morning of Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise attack (and) outnumbered our troops by a factor of five in terms of armor and manpower,” Bailey wrote. “Our division had only five days of front-line experience and tragically, we had no air coverage due to the dense fog and we could not connect to our supply lines.”
Mid-December of 1944 was brutal throughout the northern hemisphere. The Daily Telegraph reported on Dec. 15, 1944 that a major snowstorm had crippled travel in the Mountain State. Three days later, Mercer County Schools canceled school for the rest of the year, with students on Christmas break until January.
“The Division’s 422nd and 423rd regiments were encircled and cut off from the remainder of the division by a junction of enemy forces in the vicinity of Schonberg,” Bailey wrote. “The regiments regrouped for a counter attack, but were blocked by the enemy and separated from the 106th on Dec. 18, 1944. The two regiments surrendered to the Germans on the following day.”
The Germans were making a last ditch drive to reach the strategic port of Antwerp, according to Bailey. “The full force of this massive assault was made against a new and untried 106th Infantry Division. So sudden and swift was the attack that it soon punctured a huge hole, or salient, in the Allied lines that gave the battle its name: The Battle of the Bulge.”
In time, according to Bailey, the Ardennes fighting would be viewed as one of the great strategic Allied successes of the war, but one that proved to be a bitter and costly fight for the 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments. He said that several of his comrades were killed in action and many were captured and marched off to prisoner of war camps. “This was the largest mass surrender of US troops in Europe during World War II,” Bailey wrote.
“Those of us who were able to escape eventually reached the forward and/or rear echelon of the 106th for reassignment,” he wrote. “Hard hit in its initial engagement, the 106th came back with a strong offensive in January (1945) and participated successfully in the remainder of the Ardennes campaign.”
Bailey participated in four European military campaigns, was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge of Honor, two Bronze Stars — one for valor — among other citations. He was discharged from the U.S. Army on Nov. 26, 1945, and returned to West Virginia University, earning advanced degrees from WVU and the Babson Institute. He held management level positions for U.S. Steel, Consolidated Natural Gas Corp., Tiffany and Company, Edison Electric Institute and the John B. Goff Land Co., serving 16 years as the Goff company president.
In addition to serving as president of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Inc., Bailey served on the Presidential Commission overseeing Veterans Day events at the White House and Arlington National Cemetery.
He sent the information to his hometown newspaper with this request: “On Dec. 16, if you could call attention to my fellow West Virginians that this is indeed an important date in the history of World War II where we freed the world of global fascist domination,” he wrote.
More than 1 million combatants were engaged in the Battle of the Bulge. U.S. losses included 19,000 killed in action, about 45,500 wounded and more than 23,000 missing. British forces had about 1,400 casualties with 200 of that number killed in action. The Germans had 100,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com