Earl L. Bailey Collection Headnote By Jason Ratcliffe



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Earl L. Bailey Collection Headnote

By Jason Ratcliffe

The Earl L. Bailey Collection was donated to the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience by Bailey himself in 2003. A member of the 102nd Division of the 405th Infantry in the U.S. Army during World War II, Earl L. Bailey—who went by the name “Bill”—served overseas from September of 1944 through March, 1946.1Bailey, was born in Oil Hill, Kansas on July 23, 1924. During World War II he served from July, 1942 to March, 1946.2Bailey’s collection consists almost entirely of correspondence between him and his family. His mother died when he was a year old, and he was raised by two aunts and a grandmother in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. His father, step-mother and step-sister lived in Kansas City, not more than sixty miles away. Before the war, Bailey’s grandmother passed away and one of his aunts, Polly, married a man named Ed Stauffacher and moved to Illinois. His other aunt, Helen, stayed in Bartlesville and continued to raise Bailey. As a result, Bailey’s primary correspondents were his aunt Polly and uncle Ed, his “folks,” which is to say his father and step mother, and his aunt Helen. Unfortunately, the letters to and from his aunt Helen have been lost to time. So, the majority of what Bailey donated to the institute are his letters to Polly and Ed, and to his folks. The collection constitutes 98 letters and fills ½ a box. Also included in the half box are two letters to some of Bailey’s cousins, and an oral interview on Bailey’s wartime experiences, conducted by the previous director of the Institute, Dr. WilliamOldson.

An obvious difference between what Bailey wrote to his father and step mother, and what he wrote to Polly and Ed, give insight into the relationships he had with each of them. He and his father originally had a tenuous relationship which seemed to strengthen during the war. This was potentially due to new shared experience—his father was a World War I veteran, and served in a civilian capacity during World War II. On the other handhis aunt Polly, having raised Bailey, was clearly very close to him.The greater difference though, was not between what Bailey wrote to his aunt and uncle versus what he said to his parents, but what he said during periods of censorship, compared with what he said once he was again allowed to write more of what he wished.3After making it overseas in the fall of 1944, Bailey kept most of what he was doing to himself, claiming “we’re near no active battlefields yet,” and writing in October, 1944 that, “there’s really no news here at all.”4 He gave a little more information in December, writing to Polly and Ed that the Germans were fighting for every yard, and that despite the positive outlook portrayed in American propaganda, the war was far from over.5In early January he even cryptically added, “I know I’ve seen the real war. I’ll never forget it.”6

The impact of the censor on soldiers writing during World War II becomes incredibly clear upon reading Bailey’s letter dated May, 16, 1945, written just over a week after the end of the war. Wherein he informs his folks that “I have just read all the information it’s now legal to write home.”7After which, Bailey begins a history of his time overseas, starting from September 12, and leading up to the end of the war. Clearly there was much he had not been allowed to say. Some of what he said contradicted his not-so-specific letters from the fall of 1944. For instance, while in late October he claimed to far from active battlefields, in Bailey’s uncensored letter in May he wrote, “in late October we saw our first action in defensive positions at Geilenkirchen. For about three weeks we lived in Jerry pillboxes overlooking that city & watched our artillery pulverize the place & later dive bombers – all just a few hundred yards in front of your eyes.”8 Going on to report that “about 48 men remained in our rifle company which originally had 180,” Bailey proves the intensity of the combat about which he had not been able to share with his family.9 Yet, with comments about “unmentionable days,” and “atrocities committed,” Bailey hinted that even in the post-censor days, there remained some things he could not bear to talk about.10

But, the Bailey Collection reveals more than just the nature of censorship and the role it played in the life of the American soldier during World War II; it also gives great insight into the world of the student soldier. Upon first enlisting, Bailey was sent to basic training at Camp Maxey, near Paris, Texas.11He stayed there until about August 15, 1943, at which point he entered the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).12This was a program to send soldiers to college to go through an accelerated training program; Bailey went for engineering, and arrived at Ohio State University for his first day on September 8, 1943.13 The idea behind the ASTP was that it would create an educated officer out of some of the men who already had college training.14 Since Bailey had already spent some time at Oklahoma State University, he was able to pass the test that got him into the program.15 The ASTP was eventually abandoned, and those in the program were sent out into the infantry.

Bailey spent a little over six months at Ohio State University in the ASTP, and his letters from that period give a lot of insight into a soldier’s life on the home front.16 He writes that of the fifty-eight fraternities at Ohio State, most are closed due to men being away at war, while all twenty sororities are still open.17Incredibly grateful for the improvement in his circumstances, Bailey compared his time at school to basic training, writing, “We can hardly believe this is the army! This campus is beautiful: facilities so huge, buildings big, & the whole campus has the tallest aged shade trees you ever saw. The food is something you’d dream about & resembles army chow like white does black. It was so perfect & the mess hall so modernistic (new cafeteria in new dorm) we couldn’t control our enthusiasm or believe we were being paid for such a setup.”18 The ASTP was a rigorous program which kept soldiers busy all week long. Bailey described his schedule, “in our basic-2 curricula are included physics, chemistry, analytics, phys. ed., military, English, geography, history. These wouldn’t be so bad except some we have every day except Saturday & I have labs every afternoon – If I had no Sat. classes I’d be off a Sat – noon for the weekend but I have physics from 1 – 3.”19

Despite the fact that, as Bailey put it, “this ain’t the army! We have no reveille, no retreat, no K.P., no yard cleaning or barracks scrubbing. All we do is keep correctly dressed, keep room neat, & make formations, classes,” high expectations went along with a difficult schedule.20Bailey and his fellows had compulsory study hours every night, spent thirty-seven hours in class a week, and were only allowed to flunk one class; failing two or more would send them back to basic within three days.21 While differences exist between the ASTP and a normal college experience, some things do seem to be the same. Bailey mentioned roommates going to rush and to parties, being in a fraternity, and getting out of class to go to football games.22 He lived in Canfield Hall, a former women’s dorm, and ate in the mess hall.23

Not only the soldier’s life was affected by the ASTP, Bailey felt sympathetic for the faculty at Ohio State University. He wrote on December 14, 1943 around the time the professors and students would normally be off for a holiday break in between semesters, “pity the poor instructors here who thanks to the army being here, get only that one day of holiday off for Xmas. Then, envy the lucky OSU civilian students who got off last week when our furloughs began & needn’t return until 1944 sometime.”24 Bailey’s letters illustrate that even in the U.S., one of the countries farthest removed from the actual battlefront, ordinary civilians such as college students and professors, were affected in one way or another by the war.

After his time at Ohio State, Bailey was sent back to basic training, this time in Camp Swift, near Austin, Texas.25 Two themes are common in Bailey’s correspondence written during his time in basic training, both before and after the ASTP. These two elements are the training and obstacle courses, and the ever-present nature of the rumor mill in army culture. From the earliest letter in the collection, these ubiquitous aspects of basic training dominate Bailey’s conversation. Comments such as “outside of really intensive study of machine guns now we do nothing at all practically,” or “the usual number of rumors naturally abound” are common.26 Some letters give incredibly detailed accounts of Bailey’s life in basic training; one fine example from a letter datedJune 18, 1943 reads,

Been firing now for two days. Two companies use the range at once & take turns working targets, doing K.P., etc for the other company. Oh happy day, I’m on K.P. for 3 days for Co. D (firing ½ of each day) who really pour the work on strange K.P.’s from another company. We get up at 3:30, I work at K.P., fire, clean rifle, & get to bed at 11:00. Soon we’ll start getting up even before we go to bed, I’ll bet. All today I mopped, peeled potatoes, & every conceivable job worked at them rode to rifle range several miles north of here. I’ll have only a few minutes to write this for cleaning my rifle will take some time & I’m determined to get more than four hours sleep tonight. Last week while on bivouac with chiggers, poison ivy, snakes & heat.27

Bailey further described his training in one letter from his second round of basic training, where he wrote of “that sky mixed with red & green tracer bullets,” seen while “crawling some 200 yards under machine gun fire.”28 Bailey continued to write that this was “the night infiltration course & the bullets are a good 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet above the ground – pretty safe.”29Apparently, this was just one small part of his overall training, which altogether made up the P.O.M., which Bailey explained later in his letter, writing, “our P.O.M. (Prior Overseas Movement) requirements: just a lengthy list of courses & training you must have before you can be sent across!”30

Other letters describe rumor after rumor, most of them about when Bailey’s unit might be transferred or what was going on overseas. As Bailey described it, “The usual number of rumors naturally abound.”31 In many cases, the letters illustrate the frustrating position that Bailey was in, by proving that he and his fellow soldiers really had no idea where and when they were going; rumor and speculation seems to have been all they had at times. A letter written on June 18, 1943 is a fine example of this, in it Bailey wrote,

Rumors are thick & believable hereabouts it seems that the main rumors go thus: in two or three weeks we may be moved from here to make way for Jap. prisoners. Our rumored destinations are either L.S.U. at Baton Rouge, or Illinois State U. wherever it is. I do know much of our carefully planned training for the future on the machine gun, mortars, automatic rifle, etc. are cancelled. Also many cooks have been told they’re leaving – some about July 15. What all this means I’m not sure but if we’re moved the whole camp will stay intact probably. Of course it’s all rumor & may mean nothing.32

This is just one of a number of examples that demonstrate the abundance of rumors in a soldier’s life, and how they seem to stem from his being ill informed.

After a second round of basic training, which lasted three months, Bailey transferred to the Northeast in late June, 1944, in preparation for being sent overseas.33 Spending about two months at Fort Dix, in New Jersey,before heading to New York City and shipping out on September 12, 1944, Bailey finally joined the fray in late October, 1944.34 Though his letters do not reveal much, it is clear that Bailey was in combat zones in Germany until the middle of January, when, due to injury, he was made a messenger from Battalion headquarters to Company G, where he had been a rifleman previously.35Bailey spent time in central Germany throughout the rest of 1945, ending up at the war’s end “in the midst of Polish Displaced Persons & working for the military govt.”36According to Bailey’s account, the “Official ending of the war has changed little of the scene here,” and had made for“immense relief” among German civilians, “and as for GI’s it had been long apparent a quick end was inevitable. Main job of final days was collecting the thousands of bewildered jerry troops who sought refuge from the Russian sweep.”37

Bailey’s postwar career in central Europe is one of the most interesting narratives within his letters. After spending most of May watching over a displaced persons camp full of Polish ex-prisoners—where he witnessed weddings and other interesting celebrations—Bailey spent the remainder of his time overseas in a variety of different German cities and at former POW camps.38Much in Bailey’s correspondence from that time speaks of the extracurricular activities he took advantage of in the evenings. Reporting that “There are movies, stage shows, tonight: a circus,” as well as “swimming, hiking…, and an ice cream spot for GI’s,” Bailey concludes that the “most popular I guess is our beer hall which the co. took over.”39 He comments that there is “an endless quantity of (8%) beer,”and that “German beer is really good.”40 Bailey also tells of furloughs to Switzerland, his biggest complaint being that he might not get another for a while.41 He wrote, “I’d settle for another trip to Switzerland anytime. I got a lot of good photo shots there. I now own a pretty good little camera & am clicking away.”42

But it was not all movies, beer, and fun, Bailey was still in the midst of German POWs and displaced Polish individuals; he was still in war-torn Europe. What is most interesting about Bailey’s later letters is that they express a frustration with the war, a questioning of the morality of Allied actions when compared to the atrocities of the Axis, and an assessment of where blame for the war belongs. These more introspective letters give insight into the mindset of the postwar soldier, and their immediacy and close proximity to the end of the war make them valuable to an understanding of the effect of World War II on the American GI. In one poignant example, Bailey wrote:

I fail to see how people can be presumptive & invent morals & right & wrong in war of all things. And just why gas use is any more immoral than a bomb dropped from above the clouds or the use of artillery guns ten miles away - ? Promiscuous killing of civilians is another thing, but gas or any weapon against troops that will shorten the victory-…in my mind should be used.43

Clearly, while the issue of morality caused Bailey to question the righteousness of any actions committed in the war, he still felt justified in the use of any weapons against enemy soldiers. Speaking more on the “torture camps & mass murders” and other things “labelled ‘atrocities’” that were committed by the Axis, Bailey seems to question the morality of the Allies in that regard as well, stating:

In a recent conversation there wasn’t a single of my roommates or I who hadn’t seen just as many and equal “wrongs” by our own soldiers. They’re not common but they happen all the time. But to forgive “rights & wrongs” in hell of war’s wrong seems impossible. Taken from the maze of tactical situations, hate, fear, & mad emotions of a combat moment – who can isolate a given incident & label it right or wrong? I can only know what I am capable or incapable of, but to pass judgement on another in battle is something I would never attempt. Frankly, there have been times when I was able to hold no pride of the U.S. army – for the sheer hypocrisy of soldiers who would be first to judge and hate in the enemy the very things they were doing. In a lesser way, it has always escaped me just why a jerry who stayed and fought long after hopelessly surrounded &outnumbered is branded a cowardly sniper and rates death penalty or prison, but an amer.who lingers and fights a retreating– “holding” or covering action is about the bravest of all & rates all courageous adjectives there are. It just seems interesting that in war there are countless ironies which allow one - side to become the self-righteous defender of all right who is fighting all brutality & all moral wrong personified.44

Having arrived in Europe just after D-Day, Bailey was behind the front lines in September and early October.45 But, some of the most intense fighting of the war happened in Germany, from (). Bailey’s experiences during this time, clearly affected his opinions of war and morality.



Overall, the Bailey Collection is a useful tool for the historian of World War II, especially one focusing on the home front, the ASTP, postwar perceptions of morality among soldiers, or the life of the American GI in general. While Bailey’s wartime experiences are not covered extensively, he did say a good deal more about them in the oral interview that resides with the collection at the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience. Postwar, Bailey took a job in Europe and spent more time overseas. What is contained in Bailey’s correspondence is invaluable to scholars looking to further understand and contextualize the human side of the Second World War. Just a taste of the virtual treasure trove of information that exists within the Bailey Collection has been touched upon here.

1Bailey to Folks, 25 June 1945; Bailey to Polly and Ed, 5 December 1944; Bailey to Folks, 18February 1946. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.A Division in the U.S. Army during WWII was made up of 15,000 men, or three Regiments. The 405th Infantry Regiment was a part of the 102nd Division, which was part of the Ninth Army, and saw operations in the Rhineland and Central Germany. Bailey speaks little of the actual combat, for more see Armed Forces Information School, The Army Almanac: A Book of Facts Concerning the Army of the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950), 500-501, 569.

2Bailey to Polly, 15 July 1942; Bailey to Folks, 18 February 1946. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

3 The Army Censor was quite restrictive during the war, working to eliminate the possibility that secrets might make it to the enemy. Every soldier risked censorship if he wrote the wrong things in his correspondence.

4Bailey to Folks, 19 October 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

5Bailey to Polly and Ed, 5 December 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

6Bailey to Polly and Ed, 11 and 13 January 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

7 Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

8Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

9Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

10Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.1,016 Jews were burned alive in a barn in Gardelegen, Bailey’s division witnessed the atrocity. For more on the incident, see "Gardelegen,"United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed April 29, 2016, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10006173.

11 Bailey to Folks, 29 July 1942. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

12Bailey to Polly, 15 August 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

13 Bailey to Polly,8 September 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

14For general information on the ASTP program and its purpose see John R. Craf, “ASTP,” The Journal of Higher Education 14, no. 8 (1943): 399-403.

15Bailey to Polly and Ed, 12 May 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

16 Bailey to Polly and Ed, 17 March 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

17Bailey to Polly, 8 September 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

18 Bailey to Polly, 8 September 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

19Bailey to Polly, 17 September 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

20Bailey to Polly, 17 September 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

21Bailey to Polly, 17 September 1943; Bailey to Folks, 14December 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

22Bailey to Polly and Ed, 1 October 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

23Bailey to Ed, 27 November 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

24Bailey to Folks, 14 December 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

25Bailey to Polly and Ed, 17 March 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

26Bailey to Folks, 29 July 1942. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

27Bailey to Polly and Ed, 18 June 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

28Bailey to Folks, 18 April 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

29Bailey to Folks, 18 April 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

30Bailey to Folks, 18 April 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

31Bailey to Folks, 29 July 1942. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

32Bailey to Polly and Ed, 18 June 1943. Earl L. Bailey Papers.Emphasis added.

33Bailey to Polly and Ed, 27 june 1944. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

34Bailey to Polly and Ed, 27 June 1944; Bailey to Polly and Ed, 6September 1944; Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

35Bailey to Polly and Ed, 5 December 1944; Bailey to Polly and Ed, 11 and 13January 1945.Earl L. Bailey Papers.

36Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

37Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945.Earl L. Bailey Papers.

38 For Polish camp references see Bailey to Folks, 16 May 1945; Bailey to Polly and Ed, 24 May 1945. For different locations Bailey visits see Bailey to Folks, 25 June 1945; Bailey to Folks, 31August 1945; Bailey to Folks, 26September 1945; Bailey to Folks, 4January 1946. Earl L. Bailey Papers, Coll. # 03.0019, The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

39Bailey to Folks, 25June 1945.Earl L. Bailey Papers.See also Bailey to Folks, 26 September 1945; Bailey to Folks, 4January 1946. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

40Bailey to Folks, 25 June 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

41Bailey to Folks, 26 September 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

42Bailey to Folks, 26 September 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

43Bailey to Folks, 25 June 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

44Bailey to Folks, 25 June 1945. Earl L. Bailey Papers.

45D-Day, part of Operation Overlord, was June 6, 1944 and marked the beginning of the Allied retaking of France. It was the biggest seaborne invasion in history. For a good summation of the D-Day invasion and the resulting evolution of Allied strategy, which brought Bailey’s Division overseas, see Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 686-702.


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