Interview with Harry Bailey Aleutian World War II National Historic Area
Oral History Project April 10, 2008, Sutton Massachusetts Interviewed and transcribed by Janis Kozlowski,
National Park Service, Anchorage, Alaska
This interview is part of the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area Oral History Project. The interview with Mr. Bailey was conducted via the telephone and recorded on a digital recorder. Copies of the audio file are preserved in mp3, wav and wma formats and are on file at the offices of the National Park Service in Anchorage, Alaska.
Harry Bailey: [0:00:00] At Attu there, the gusts would come down off the damn mountains off to the west. And, boy, I mean, everybody, there was … like in that particular story I was just telling you about the 100 miles an hour, another fellow who I never knew but I’d write to him, he lost his power barge out there during that storm. And he said everybody was in trouble that particular storm. I mean, just trying to keep from going aground. Anchors would, you know, drag and so forth. And in that storm too, two power barges actually went up on the beach.
Janis Kozlowski: Well was it because … did you not have good weather information and you got in these storms? Or did the Army just want you to go out in everything?
Harry Bailey: We never heard of the weather, not until the day it came, you know. There was nothing … I don’t know, it was pretty loose, as I say. In 1944, at the end, things were becoming, you know, where you had more contact, you could get a weather report. But, again, I don’t know, another fellow that I was with on that ship who I’ve found in the last 10 years, told me how after I had left Attu that the Lieutenant Commander of the group sent one of the boats out in a big storm and said they were lost. I don’t know whether they ever found them or what but he said the Lieutenant lost his job. He was demoted or whatever.
These guys were, you know, two civilians. I don’t think they had any experience, you know, being on the ocean. They were just there and more or less to keep it organized and send you here, there and everywhere but they didn’t seem to have any knowledge of what a storm would be like--nothing of that sort.
Janis Kozlowski: Well those were some pretty big storms up there too especially if you weren’t really a seaman. That would be quite a challenge, I would imagine.
Harry Bailey: Yes. [laughing] I only know about myself but I’m sure other people had the same feelings I did. Maybe they were more afraid although I don’t think anybody could be more afraid than me, the first … in the beginning, you know?
Janis Kozlowski: [0:02:30]When did you actually leave Alaska?
Harry Bailey: I because of being the radio man I was fortunate. I left in March of ’45. I got there, like I say, in December, first part of January of ’43 – first part of ’44, I should say.
But, we … another fellow we went up to a radio school in Anchorage, that was like, you know, going back to civilization again. But we were in a Quonset hut, living there, waiting for a flight to Anchorage. And they came in and said there is a flight coming in today or it’s there now and you guys go down to the airstrip. And somebody took us down and we got there they decided the weather was too bad and the airplane hadn’t arrived or was not going to take off. So we went back up to that Quonset hut.
Two or three days later they sent us down again. And we got down there and they said, “No, no, weathers bad.” So, I think we went down three times and came back to the Quonset hut and the … after that third time, my friend and I said, “We’re not going back up to that Quonset hut. We’ll just stay at this airstrip … airport, call it what you will, until the day comes and they arrive.” Well, we … there were wooden benches there and I don’t know, maybe, one or two o’clock in the morning, I was sleeping on the bench and this fellow come in and shook me and he says, “Come on, there’s an airplane out there. It’s gonna leave now.”
And we went out there and you can’t believe the snow storm. You … I’ve never seen it snowing harder than that day. [laughing] There was that airplane and we got on it and off we went and I guess we stopped at Amchitka and Naknek and then finally to Anchorage. But I don’t know how that airplane whether he came in that night in that, or how he got there. But, God, I mean, it wasn’t a real storm, but it was snowing so hard when we got out there.
Janis Kozlowski: And those guys had probably little more navigation equipment than you might have had on your ships but they still didn’t have a lot.
Harry Bailey: They didn’t have a lot. After … they had … they learned the weather up there. I know little about it but, you know, when there’d be a big storm going on … just about the time that that storm had ended and it was … clouds might be breaking a little bit, them transport planes – C-47s – would come in to Attu just hugging along the side of the mountain and dropping down and landing. So they were flying when the storm would still be, you know, say at Adak. But they had that thing down to a science I thought.
Janis Kozlowski: Well, I guess if they waited for good weather they wouldn’t be flying very much.
Harry Bailey: They wouldn’t, no. I had a friend, another fellow who lived in my town, he went in right after they had the battle and they were building an airstrip at the so called Alexei Point was the name of it. He was with Air Transport and he said that they landed at that strip which was being built while the battle was going on and he said that they landed but they couldn’t take off for two days because the runway wasn’t long enough to go. So they could land but they couldn’t take off. I guess they took wounded back.
[0:06:22] Oh, you know what I wanted to tell you, I did check this out. You talked about the cemetery at Attu and a lot of people still don’t know where it is and those that did know have died. But this one fellow that was in school with me, I didn’t remember him, but he recalled being in the same class and he lives in another town. He said that after the war he went down on a Navy LST to recover the bodies. He was Army but they called him volunteers. He said he was stationed in Virginia and he thought it would be nice to go to Alaska so he did. And they went to Attu and the first time I talked to him, which could have been six or seven years ago, he said when they got down to Attu bringing the bodies up out of the graves, he said there were some that there was so much live ammunition – grenades and everything – he said that somebody called into Anchorage and asked, they said it’s not safe to do. He said, then we didn’t bring them out. And I often wondered, did he mean Americans?
So I called him a couple of days ago and I said, “Whose bodies and the live ammunition and so forth …” No,” he said, “they were Japanese.” What I’m telling you is the Japanese – there’s still some there, you know. He said they didn’t take them. He said, we took, I don’t know, he said they took 100 Japanese of the 400.
You know an LST is a big landing ship.
Janis Kozlowski:[0:08:05] Well, you didn’t tell me what you were doing in Seward. Did you just pass through there or did you actually work there for awhile?
Harry Bailey:No, I went to that signal school in Anchorage and then they put me on this FS – the freighter ship to go out to … well, we went to Adak. But anyway, I made that trip and the first Sergeant who I had had a little disagreement with a couple of times, he was getting out of the Army so I wrote him a letter. He was in charge of all the radio men and I told him that I’d like to go to the radio station in Seward because this is where my friend that I went to school with was then – we were both radio men. So I said … I didn’t think that I … he would do it. So I said to him, “You’re getting out, so it won’t make any difference to you. Maybe you might let me go to Seward.” And after coming back from that one trip out to Adak on that ship…. You know liquor out there used to sell for about $50 a bottle.
Janis Kozlowski: Wow.
Harry Bailey: Yeah, I don’t know if you knew that. Yes. So I didn’t have any money when we got back into Seward so I borrowed, I think, it was about $5 a bottle for a fifth of Whiskey then from my friend who was at the radio station and I concealed it on the ship and I was gonna make a killing out at Adak selling it for $50 a bottle. Well, anyway, the ship was … the engine was running. I threw one of the lines off and this fellow come running down the dock with his barracks bag on his shoulder and said, “Wait, wait!” He says, “I’m here to replace Bailey.” And, anyway, the Skipper of the ship gave me my $50 back that I bought the whiskey with so I didn’t loose anything there and I went ashore in Seattle. So, the last thing that First Sergeant did for me was took care of me and put me in Seward in the radio station and that’s where I ended up before coming home for discharge.
Janis Kozlowski: So you didn’t think so badly about him after all, right?
Harry Bailey: No, we’re friends now. [both laughing] I found him down in Florida. He calls, oh maybe once or twice a year. So, no, he was alright. He had to work it out, not me. I mean, I just talked too much that day and he told me that I wouldn’t be a Corporal that next day. But he didn’t take it away from me. So I think he was, he is, he’s soft hearted. But he tried to sound … he was a little fellow. He, I guess, you know, the respect you should get being a First Sergeant is you gotta be gruff, right?
Janis Kozlowski: Um-hmm.
Harry Bailey: I think, I didn’t show the respect that day that I should have. So, that’s how I got into Seward.
I did [laughing] go up to Fort Richardson and from there you usually came home on Alaska Steamship – you know, they bring you back to Seattle. And I went up right after New Year’s in 1946 and they were – everyone, many, many people – were being discharged and sent home. And I went into the barracks and the bunks were three high. And there was no room … very little room to move, you know, from side to side. And they were going to wait now for a ship and they’d go back down, probably to Whittier and be transported to Seattle.
[0:11:46] And I hadn’t, you know, in Seward I had a nice room of my own in the barracks. And on the ship, you know, you had a nice bunk and I wasn’t used to living in these kind of conditions. [laughing] And, there was a … because of the discharge of people the fellow that could handle all the paperwork was only a Corporal who had been, when I was there at the signal school earlier, he was still there. I got into that barracks with all these guys and the three bunks and I said, “God, this is terrible.”
So when I saw this friend who was still stationed at Fort Richardson, I said, “God, it’s terrible over there.” He says, “You don’t like it?” I says, “No.” He said, “Would you like to go back to Seward and wait for your friend?” – who came, again, from the same town. He said, “He’s coming back up from Adak, on a ship, tugboat. And I said, “Yes.”
I went up on a Saturday to Fort Richardson and on Monday I was back on the train and I went down to Seward and I just sat around for a whole month waiting for them to come up with that tugboat. That’s how I got back.
We got towed back. The tug I was on didn’t have any power. Another tug towed us back to Seattle.
Janis Kozlowski: Really? Wow, that must have been a long trip.
Harry Bailey: Yeah. I would … I don’t know how long – 6 or 7 days maybe?
Janis Kozlowski: But more exciting because you knew you were going to … you were heading closer to home.
Harry Bailey: Oh, yeah. It was good. [laughing] I tell people that’s how I came back home – on a tug boat that didn’t have any power.
Janis Kozlowski: [laughing] Well, who was your buddy that you keep talking about? It’s the same guy, right? The one from Maine.
Harry Bailey: Uh, no, he’s from the same town as I did. We went to school together, same class I was in. His name was Labreck.
Janis Kozlowski: Labreck?
Harry Bailey: Yeah. L A B R E C K. Like I say, we went into the Army on the same day too. I used to ask him, “What’s your Army serial number?” He says, “I don’t know that.” And I’d tell him the serial number because he was two behind me in line when those were passed out. So, to this day, I mean, those serial numbers, I still have them in my head.
Janis Kozlowski: You know his and yours.
Harry Bailey: Yes. I was 24 and he was a 26. [laughing] But he … I think most guys forget about it for some crazy reason I still … it’s one of those things that hangs in.
Janis Kozlowski: So what happened after you got to Seattle then?
Harry Bailey: We called up at Fort Lawton. A truck came down and they didn’t know who we belonged to. See, that’s how screwed up things were in this outfit.
So, as I say, we stayed in the barracks and this one fellow, the so-called Skipper, and my friend Labreck there, we said “Let’s go down to Seattle for a few days.” So we went down to Seattle and we stayed in a hotel for three days and then we went back up and by that time they found out who we belonged to. [We] Got a, you known, ticket to the train to come back to Massachusetts.
Janis Kozlowski:[0:15:07] Did you stay in the Service then or where you discharged?
Harry Bailey: When I got back to Fort Devens in Massachusetts it was … we got back there on a Saturday night, I guess and we were out Monday. They moved them out real fast.
Janis Kozlowski: So do you remember what, about when that was?
Harry Bailey: Yes, February the 28th, in ’46.
Janis Kozlowski: A memorable day. [both laughing] You remember the exact date.
And then what did you do for a career after that?
Harry Bailey: I should have done more. I’m a plumber.
Janis Kozlowski: What do you think about your experiences during World War II? Was it a good experience for you? Do you think it had a big influence on your life?
Harry Bailey: Yes, I think so. One of my friends there, the Skipper again, said to me one day, “We did our part.” He said, “We did our share of the work, “ as far as … I think, you know, looking at it, those people on shore … you know, we lived on the ship. You know, in decent weather we lived a pretty good life, you know – only nine people and there was no military, you know, chasing you all the time or telling you what to do. So, it was … except for the stormy weather there, I think that it was the best place to be. Of course, in the storm you always look at the guy that’s on shore because he’s got ground under his feet. You know, he doesn’t fight the wind and the anchor dragging and so forth. But I don’t know, I think I … as I say, I would do it again if it happened to be that way.
Janis Kozlowski: There weren’t a lot of good theatres in World War II to be in, but I guess, it sounds like you felt like you got a good place to be and you lived through it.
Harry Bailey: Yes. I definitely, you know, I had, well, in basic training, they were asking for volunteers for the Second Ranger Battalion and there were three people in the platoon I was in and they were going to volunteer. One fellow said, “Are you gonna come with us?” And I said, “Yup.” So, just prior to that my friend there, Labreck, he said, “You’re not gonna go with those guys are you?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “You’re gonna die, you know?” “No” I said. He says, “You’re gonna die.” So, I didn’t volunteer.
On D-Day two of these people, they landed at Normandy with the Ranger Battalion and I’ve seen the movie, The Longest Day, and the things that they did. One of those two, he got killed the first day. The other fellow I found out he’d passed on later. But I mean, I would have … you know, whether you could volunteer and maybe they wouldn’t take you. So, who knows whether I would have made it or not, but my friend Labreck talked me out of it which is … I’m happy for today.
Janis Kozlowski: Yeah, he was a good friend to you that day. [both laughing]
Harry Bailey: It sounded good at the time, you know.
[0:18:35] But the Russians, you know, they trained them. Did I mention that? At Cold Bay?
Janis Kozlowski: No.
Harry Bailey: That lend lease. Cold Bay had … was a big Army Fort early in the war and then they closed it down after Attu was taken, and it was empty. And then that lend-lease, the United States gave a bunch of ships to the Russians but they brought them to Cold Bay for training. That’s when I … I realized all these years – 40 years – that’s why, where I saw them. It was much later than I had thought of earlier. Then they were training at Cold Bay and … that on the ship that I was on I mentioned the Russians were, I said, “Oh yeah, there’s a bunch of them over there in Cold Bay.” So there were a lot of ships that were, you know, given to the Russians – destroyers or smaller, you know, Navy craft.
I was gonna write a little note on the bottom there that I did not see them at Attu, I saw them at Cold Bay.
Harry Bailey: We went over to Chichigof Island [meant Harbor?], that’s where the settlement was, and we were going for souvenirs one day and we got deciding we were gonna go to Holtz Bay. And to get around there – we didn’t know where we were going – we’re going on a steep slope to go out to the point and then circle back to Holtz Bay. And the snow was deep, it was in May, and there were about 6 of us. And we walked, I don’t know, about three hours and finally we come to a point where you could see Holtz Bay. It was just too far. We were gonna go back. Actually there was a road there – we didn’t know it though – to get over there. So we decided that we would give up on that, it was just too far away.
But in the meantime, you know, late afternoon, the sun had gone down and all that snow that we were walking in where we could … you know, it was soft. The stuff froze up. And this was, like I way, a real steep incline there. And we got back, of course, but you had to break through the crust every step. I don’t know, probably for two or three miles we had to walk. We got back there and there was nobody over there at Chichigof Harbor except a mess hall. So we asked the fellow if he had anything to eat because we hadn’t had anything since the morning. And all they had was jelly and bread. But that was good that night.
Harry Bailey: [0:21:28] But that, you going back there, you know, to Attu there I’m surprised that the people I’ve talked to that came earlier, those that died that don’t know where the cemetery was. It was right off the beach.
Janis Kozlowski: Down by Massacre Bay?
Harry Bailey: Yeah. I guess there was a small one over in Holtz Bay but the biggest cemetery was right, well, almost near the Army docks where, you know, we used to tie up. I got … in fact I’ve got pictures of the, you know, cemetery, taken from a boat, I guess it was, because they were small. I had them blown up so they were big.
And some of these pictures have been around a long time, like Shemya, you know, showed when they were building the docks at Shemya. That would be like in the summer of 1944. They got them and I say, they built them and oh, I don’t know, maybe by the end of August … you know, they built two big breakwaters too. Did I mention that to you before?
Janis Kozlowski: No.
Harry Bailey: They used to, you know, take … we brought in these big heavy construction trucks – Euclid’s they call them.
Janis Kozlowski: Euclid?
Harry Bailey: Yeah, Euclid -- big, for building roads really – heavy, heavy trucks. But we used to bring them in in pieces then they’d assemble them at Shemya and they built these breakwaters. They worked all summer. These were massive things and anyway, we … in October, yeah, October, I guess it was we were hauling a bunch of civilian workers over to Shemya. And on the way over the wind started to blow and it was raining real hard. And we had, I don’t know, maybe 50 or 60 and they were up in our rooms and all through our ship. You know, there was no places for … they were staying out in the open if it was decent weather. But, anyway we got almost to Shemya and they blinked over with their light to go back over to Attu and that was when those breakwaters were washed out. That was the day that they … I don’t know, maybe three months after they were built.
Janis Kozlowski:[0:24:08] When you were at Attu did you see the PV-1s and PV-2s headed over to the Kurile Islands?
Harry Bailey: No. But they were there and I’m gonna get ahead of myself again and talking about the PBYs – the flying boat. One day we were going to Shemya and we were headed that direction and a PBY came down to water level off of Shemya. He’s coming right for us. And he’s coming and he’s coming and somebody says, “Jesus, he’s trying to give us the fright of our life” or whatever. And he came to where it would almost be in front of our boat, not quite, I’m sure. But that thing lifted up, like, lifting up straight. It didn’t happen that way, but that’s how close he came before he took that damn big airplane up. One of the crew members there looked out the window and shaking his fist at him. He could see them smiling down there, you know.
Janis Kozlowski: So they did it just to give you a rush, huh?
Harry Bailey: Oh, yeah, yeah. Then a B-25, that’s a small, two engine bomber – they did that one time. Now I wasn’t awake there but they came down and did the same thing and they took two or three feet off the top of the mast of our boat.
Janis Kozlowski: They did?
Harry Bailey: Yeah. From that day on you could always identify that ship because there was no mast there for that distance, the three feet or four feet upward. But that was the only time, but I guess they used to do that quite often. It gives them something to do too, you know, just out there flying around.