CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Exactly 73 years after he was killed in action, a West Virginia soldier is finally home. Helen Francisco stood at Yeager Airport along with her husband Wednesday as the remains of her brother, Army Private Shirley E. Bailey, were returned.
“As they brought him in I was proud that he got here,” said Francisco choking back tears. “I had on my mind if my mother was here she would be so happy.”
Francisco was only three when her brother was killed fighting in the Hürtgen Forest of Germany in 1944. He served as a medic in Company G, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, in the battle which lasted from September of ’44 until February of 1945.
“Private Bailey was a medic with his unit. He was moving out of the area and a counter attack struck his company,” explained Sgt. First Class Kristen Duus of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency citing the official account of the incident. “He saw some wounded service members ahead of him, he rushed forward to provide aid and that’s when he was killed by enemy fire.”
Because of the intensity and length of the battle and the coverage area of roughly 50 square miles, comrades were unable to collect Bailey’s body after he was killed. Later, after the war, the American Grave Registration Command collected all of the unknown sets of remains. However, since they could not be identified, they were classified with an “x” number. Bailey was buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium, as an unknown soldier.
“My mother was really upset and she did everything she could to get him home and she couldn’t,” said Francisco. “They kept telling her they didn’t have him and didn’t know where he was.”
Francisco said eventually the Army did declare her brother “killed in action,” but they were never sure where he might have been or what happened.
“I had three brothers over there at the same time,” Francisco explained. “He was the one who didn’t come home. He was the youngest.”
Sgt. Duus’ unit works tirelessly to identify unknown remains from past wars. They were able to determine Bailey’s remains were interred in Belgium through historical data and when he was disinterred used DNA, dental, and anthropological records to make a positive identification.
It was a family of 12 children, but today only Helen and her sister Alma are left. They’ll be part of the funeral service Friday at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute where Bailey will be buried with full military honors. Francisco doesn’t remember her brother–but does remember what a tragedy it was the family.
“I was three years old,” she said. “I remember my mom telling all of us what had happened.”
Now, 73 years later, Helen said she was proud and grateful to be able to bring her brother home and put him into his final resting place, a marked grave in the mountains he left to serve his nation so many years ago.