TSgt Vincent W. Bailey

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A letter from Professor Gregory Urwin to nephew of TSgt Bailey:
Used with permission

I regret that I must confirm that Technical Sergeant Vincent W. Bailey was one of the five Wake Island defenders beheaded by the Japanese on the Nitta Maru on 21 or 22 January 1942 as the ship was sailing from Yokohama to Shanghai.

Sgt. Bailey was the fourth-ranking NCO in the ground detachment that serviced the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters of Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) during the siege of Wake Island, 8-23 December 1941. That unit suffered a higher percentage of casualties than any other in the Wake garrison. From what I can tell, Sgt. Bailey went through the siege unscathed.

Sgt. Bailey did not belong to VMF-211 per se. His unit was Headquarters and Service Squadron 21(HQ&SS-21), Marine Aircraft Group 21 (MAG-21), 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW), Fleet Marine Force, at Ewa, the Marine airfield on Oahu.

As war with Japan appeared more imminent in the fall of 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, decided to station Marine aircraft on Wake and Midway. He was not sure what type of plane would go to each atoll, so he formed two composite ground support units composed of Marines from headquarters, fighter, and dive bomber squadrons. The two officers and 108 men composing these detachments left Pearl on 19 November 1941 aboard the USS Wright. Sgt. Bailey and the 48 men in his detachment landed at Wake on 28 November. On 4 December, they learned they would be servicing fighters when twelve Wildcats from VMF-211 landed on the atoll's primitive airfield. Four days later, Sgt. Bailey and his comrades found themselves engulfed by World War II (Wake is a day ahead of Pearl, as it sits west of the International Dateline).

VMF-211 took a heavy toll of the Japanese during the siege of Wake -- sinking a destroyer and a submarine, and shooting down numerous enemy aircraft. Before the Nitta Maru left Wake with more than 1,000 prisoners on 12 January 1942, a Japanese aviation officer asked the commander of the guard detail to take ritual revenge on the American air unit. Killing pilot officers would have been too conspicuous -- so the Japanese chose Sgt. Bailey, two other enlisted Marines from VMF-211, and two Navy enlisted men who had been sent to Wake to service PBYs (Navy seaplanes). The seaplanes did not reach Wake before the war broke out. These men were simply taken from the hold of the Nitta Maru
[on or about 21/22 Jan 1942 after departing Yokohama], led up on deck, blindfolded, forced to kneel, and decapitated with swords. It was just that simple -- and cold-heartedly brutal.

The commander of the guard detail (Lt. Saito) was never brought to justice, but the five petty officers who wielded the swords were tried and sentenced to prison. You can order a Xerox copy of the entire "Record of Trial of Hsaji Hida et 4" from the National Archives, Washington D.C., 20408. It is cataloged as "Case 67-75" in Record Group 153, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General. Prosecution Exhibit No. 11 is a photograph of Sgt. Bailey. It should be possible for the National Archives to make a good quality print of it for you. He appears quite handsome -- thin, with a curl in his hair, which he parted on the left side.

I devote a lot of attention to VMF-211's operations in my book,
Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island, which is available in paperback at a substantial discount from Amazon.com. I only give brief mention to Sgt. Bailey's execution in that book, but the tragic crime that claimed his life will be described in greater detail in the book I am now writing, "Victory in Defeat: The Defenders of Wake Island as Prisoners of War, 1941-1945."