By Sharon E. Siegel
MILFORD, PA – Sgt. Milton Wesley Bailey of Milford, PA had just turned 19 when he began a chosen military call to duty. Bailey had enlisted in the Army, leaving his beloved mom and grandma, to serve his nation. He sent letters home to each of them, nearly daily, as he served.
Bailey’s beautifully handwritten letters and other family items have been carefully cared for over decades at Pike County’s Milford Columns. His last letter home, with handwritten pencil notation “Our Darling’s last letter” on the back, reads in part:
Sgt. Milton W. Bailey
July 9, 1951
Dear Mom & Grandma,
How are you today? This letter leaves me fine and hope it finds the two of you in the best of health.
The weather here today is fair except for a little rain. It has been pretty hot here for almost a month now. July over here is the rainy season but it hasn’t been raining much till today. The roads are so dusty you can’t walk down them with out looking like a hill of dirt when you get finished.
How are all the folks at home. Tell them all I asked about them.
With all my love and kisses. Tell everybody I asked about them. Till the next time then.
Love & Kisses
Bailey’s family includes a long line of military service on both sides. This includes himself as part of America’s last Buffalo Soldier unit, and his maternal great-grandfather a Civil War Buffalo Soldier having served in its first unit.
It was as a soldier with that last Buffalo Soldier unit, Co. G, 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, that Bailey was last seen returning fire from a North Korean mountain ridge on July 17, 1951. The Point Man on that last mission, Curtis Morrow, later wrote and dedicated a book describing his last sighting of Bailey, and Bailey's heroic actions on that and other days.
“There was always the possibility that you might survive. And it was that pitiful little ray of hope that kept us pushing on day after day. And one day our friend and squad leader Corporal Milton Bailey's hopes and prayers ceased to exist," Morrow wrote. "Corporal Milton Bailey was our 1st Squad-Leader. He was from Milford, Pennsylvania, an only child."
Morrow wrote of wondering how his Bailey’s grandmother would take it when she got the news.
“I guess she'll never know how he died like a real hero, standing his ground on a mountain ridge in a country she probably never heard of before, laying down a field of fire to enable members of his squad a chance to clear an ambush that none of us were supposed to escape,” Morrow wrote.
Morrow, a distinguished wounded soldier himself, fortunately returned home and still lives in Chicago, Illinois. He recalled via a recent video chat that on the day Bailey was last seen his unit was simply expecting to make contact with the enemy and get out as they had done many times before. Instead, they found themselves face-to-face with a much larger than anticipated, well-equipped Chinese force.
His unit was instructed to return to their base, and as they scrambled to do so Morrow caught a quick glance of Bailey. Bailey was the rear guard on that particular mission, and was returning fire to allow his unit's retreat.
“He was standing there firing his carbine and yelling from the pit of his stomach at us (his squad members) to clear the area while he provided cover fire for us,” Morrow wrote. “The brother had saved my life once before. If it hadn't been for him, I would have frozen to death the time I fell asleep in sub-zero temperature (35 degrees below). There had been other times too. He had been my first foxhole partner and schooled me and other members of our squad and platoon in the do's and don'ts. He was like a big brother to us all, always looking out for the men in his squad. Now he was gone.”
A U.S. Army Command Report verified this last Buffalo unit's mission in a condensed official narrative.
“On the 17th of July, 1951, the 2nd Rn, 24th Inf. Reg, was located in the area of Hill 477, CT 327333, FS 628 IV (see overlay). The 2nd used this hill as a base from which patrols were dispatched to locate enemy forces. Co G was dispatched from the patrol base with the mission of proceeding to Hill 334, CT 287337, and making a reconnaissance of the area in and around the hill. The patrol encountered an enemy force on the hill and after a heavy fire fight the G Company patrol withdrew to reorganize. The attack to take the hill began with the aid of other units of the Bn. It was met by heavy enemy resistance and the units returned to the patrol base as the day closed.”
These tough words describe the dangers faced by military men and women throughout history. For Sgt. Bailey, however it was thoughts of his 1950’s hometown and family that occupied the quieter moments of each day while he was away.
Bailey’s letters home share glimpses of his military days, promotions, and envisioned possibilities for a return to civilian life. He wrote of his own hometown memories, asked about the well-being of friends, neighbors, and loved ones, and wished everyone well as he planned his post-military return to Milford.
His words in each letter were optimistic and upbeat, including on the eve of what would become his last battle along the 38th Parallel Line and into North Korea.
Bailey’s beloved mom Beatrice Bailey and grandmother Phoebe Davis Bailey kept every letter sent home, along with their missing loved one’s Purple Heart and other posthumous medals awarded when a presumed MIA death was declared. They never gave up hope that Bailey would return home to 308 W. High Street where he was raised in a house purchased with his late great-grandfather's Civil War pension.
Lori Strelecki, long-time director of Pike County’s Historical Society and Columns Museum and keeper of the Bailey Family archives, views the story of Bailey’s entire family as one of bravery and strength. This includes not only Milton and his family’s military service, but his beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
“Sarah, Phoebe and Beatrice (Bailey’s great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother) were fearless in their lives as well, fighting their own battles every day,” Strelecki said of the family left behind. “I watched their story unfold before my eyes in the pages of their well-kept family album, and enjoyed meeting all of their friends and family through the photographs, notes, cards and letters it contained. Milton and his family are remembered fondly still by those who knew them and the community that greatly mourns their loss.”
Born on April 14, 1931, Milton Wesley Bailey excelled as a child, teen, and athlete growing up in his rural Pike County community. As a member of Milford High School Class of 1951, he was a skilled athlete in multiple team sports and actively involved in school clubs and events.
Unable to be found upon his unit's return and search of the area where he was last seen 72-years ago this year, Bailey is memorialized on the Courts of Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. His Gold Star mother and grandmother are buried in Milford Cemetery.
Many, including Strelecki, still hold hope that the fate and location of this local hero will be found.
“His letters home bring a smile to my face as well as a tear to my eye; not unlike the overall story of this family,” Strelecki said. “It would be great to bring Milton home and lay him to rest with his beloved family; that is where he belongs.”