His Heart Keeps Beating: Remembering My Father . . . by Ginger Bailey

 

His Heart Keeps Beating; Bud Bailey

Everett C. “Bud” Bailey

We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up, though I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back I realize our real wealth was the sense of love and security the folks provided. And, without a doubt, it was my father, Everett C. “Bud” Bailey,  who set the pattern and led the way.

I don’t recall ever thinking of my father as anything out of the ordinary. He was just my dad who worked hard. Maybe it was because he worked so hard, as a carpenter and contractor, that I didn’t realize the extent of his disability.

December 29, 1943, on the island of New Britain, he was caught in machine gun crossfire. Left for dead, he stuffed his gun belt into his opened gut and torn thigh, then dragged himself to the back of the line. Twice more he was counted for dead. Twice more he proved them wrong. He never talked about the details. But I believe it was his meetings with death that created his profound respect for life, and his intuitiveness when it came to the needs of others. For example:

It was obvious that my father loved my mother. In 42 years he never stopped referring to her as “my lovely bride.” And the warm, loving tone of his voice always spoke more than his words. He said he was “very, very fortunate” to have married her, and considered her “the most wonderful woman in the world.” After he died, Mother often said “when you’ve had the best, you don’t settle for less.” She knew her husband loved her.

He also loved his children. There were three of us, all girls. We were each very different in our interests and talents, but Daddy (“Father” was too formal and distancing) treated us all equally — differently according to our various personalities and interests, but equally in our worth and value.

I still reflect on the sense of worth he gave me when I wanted to send a fan letter to get a picture of some television personalities. Daddy said I could send my letter, but I had to include one of my pictures. Of course, my picture hit the round file as soon as it was received, but the message from my father was profound and long lasting — I am just as important and valuable as anyone else, including celebrities.

Extended family was also important to him. His parents were always close, often next door. But Mother’s parents were more than 900 miles away. Summer was Daddy’s busiest time at work, but somehow he managed to get us from northern California to the old farm in western Montana every year. He was determined his children would know their grandparents, and his wife would never feel a loss of her roots. Because of Daddy’s respect, love, and commitment those yearly “trips,” were the most memorable and purest of “vacations.”

When I was a high school senior the exchange student from Thailand lived with us. Quickly she became part of our family, and took to calling Daddy “Daddy Long Legs.” It fit. She was 4 foot 10; he was 6 foot 2. Years later, when she returned to the states, the folks met her at the San Francisco airport. Coming through customs she spotted “Daddy Long Legs” and started yelling “Daddy! Daddy!” The love and acceptance was mutual. I always enjoyed watching people’s faces when Daddy introduced Pranom as his “other daughter.” “You mean you can’t see the resemblance?” he would ask. “Two ears, two eyes, a nose, and a smile.”

Daddy never dwelt on differences nor succumbed to prejudices. One day a visitor to our home made hateful, derogatory remarks about the Japanese. The visitor, like my father, was a WWII veteran, but, unlike my father, had never seen combat. Later I asked Daddy why I never heard such hateful words from him. Certainly he had greater cause than this other man. I can still hear his response. “We were all there for the same reason. The only reason they shot me was because I didn’t shoot them first. If I hate them, I have to hate myself.”

I don’t think my father ever hated anyone. He may have disagreed or disliked or even been angry, but hate was not in him. In fact, he was always quick to correct us girls if we used the word, even in a common cliche. 

Daddy was always there for us. One evening when I was in the 7th grade he perceived something was bothering me. When he asked what it was, I broke into tears. I had a history report due the next day, and I hadn’t even picked a subject. Daddy spent the rest of the evening helping me put together a report on the American flag. The teacher gave me an “A,” but I knew it was really Daddy’s “A.” I did the work, but it would never have happened without Daddy’s coaching and encouragement. 

Daddy continued to be there long after my sisters and I reached adulthood. My younger sister, Janet, was battling leukemia when she met a great guy. Not sure what to do, they went to the folks for advice. “Dave and I are in love,” she said. “We want to get married, but I’m going to die.” Daddy responded: “We are all going to die. Use what time you have.” Janet and Dave did marry. She died one year later, but not before Daddy escorted her to her ten-year class reunion. Dave was out of town on Air Force duty, and Janet, just out of the hospital, was too weak to attend the reunion by herself. With Daddy as her escort, she didn’t have to.

Daddy was an active member of many organizations in our small town, especially the American Legion, but it wasn’t until after his passing that I more fully realized how well-known and respected he was. The funeral director postponed his vacation so he could personally see to the arrangements. The American Legion conducted the service, and members of the organization and community packed the chapel to overflowing. The atmosphere was palpable with respect and sorrow. Then the hearse wouldn’t start for the drive to the cemetery. The battery was dead. When the embarrassed funeral director came to Mother to apologize and explain the delay Mother responded, “It’s just Bud telling everyone to lighten up.” She knew her husband well.

Over twenty years after his death I was blessed to learn a little more about my father and what he meant to others. On one occasion I met a young man who said he was an airline pilot because of my father. He explained that as a teenager he spent a lot of time hanging around the local county airport, dreaming that someday he would learn to fly. Daddy, who learned to fly in the late 1960s, was also frequently at the airport. This young man said it was through my father’s encouragement that he found the motivation to pursue and achieve a career that others told him was only a dream.

On another occasion, upon being introduced, a man exclaimed “You’re Bud Bailey’s daughter! Let me tell you what your father did. We were both at the airpark, just hanging out. I was yelling at a lady at the desk when your father stepped up, said he needed to see me, and took me outside. When we were alone he said, ‘You and I are alike; we are both in constant pain. But that is no excuse for the way you’re acting. That woman isn’t the cause of your pain. You need to stop taking your pain out on people who have nothing to do with it.’ Then he walked away. Boy, was I mad, but I was too stunned to speak. So I planned to lay into him the next time I saw him. But it was two weeks before I had the chance, and by then I had time to think about what he said. He was right — 100% right.”

Physical pain from his war wounds was a daily part Daddy’s life, and it got worse as each day passed. The day he again met death was one of the few exceptions. He was feeling good that day, so he and Mother decided to visit my sister, Donna, who lived 70 miles away. On the way home, driving west into the sun, Daddy said, “I can’t see.” Mother thought he meant the sun was in his eyes until he said “I’m blind,” and slumped over the steering wheel dead.

Mother managed to turn the engine off, without locking the steering wheel, and guide the car until it coasted to a stop on the side of the highway. There she called for help on the CB radio Daddy had taught her to use. Help arrived in three or four minutes. They got his heart going, but he never regained consciousness. His heart stopped for the last time two days later.

But a heart like his never really stops. It keeps beating in the lives of those he touched.

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Read other memories about authors’ fathers: Justin Hunt’s “Showman’s Pasture,” Maureen Ryan Griffin’s “The Gift of Wings,” Laura Moehrle’s “The Treasure Box,” and Linda Whitesitt’s “Honoring My Father’s Service.”

Honoring My Father’s Service in World War II . . . by Linda Whitesitt

Honoring My Father's Service; Don & Judy Whitesitt

Judith Elaine Whitesitt and Donald Lee Whitesitt

I don’t have anything close to a full story about my father’s service in World War II, at least not yet. But from the few pieces of memorabilia he saved, I know this — 

  • Donald Lee Whitesitt enlisted on July 25, 1942.
  • His photo appears in the Class of 43-6F (Arizona Gliding Academy, Wickenburg, AZ) with a nickname “Professor.”
  • Private First Class Whitesitt is pictured in the 25th Training Group (Jefferson Barracks, MO, April 6, 1944).
  • His military “occupation speciality” was “Administrative & Tech Clerk 405”;
  • He received the American Theater Ribbon, The Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, and the Victory Medal World War II.
  • He was a sergeant in the India-China Division, Air Transport Command in Calcutta (Kolkata) serving the China, Burma and India Theater.
  • His honorable discharge lists his “date of separation” as February 11, 1946.

Although I know next to nothing about what my dad actually did during the war, I can see something of what he saw during his time in the Air Transport Command by the photographs he took — pictures of Calcutta streets filled with people (he’s labeled one “humanity”); ships and troop transports at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka); water buffalo; the hanging gardens in Bombay (Mumbai); the harbor in Singapore. And I know what was important to him when I look at a picture of a cross in the U.S. Military Cemetery in Calcutta with the name of one of his fallen comrades written in the margins and a photo of him hiding behind a newspaper with the very large headlines “Peace Official.”  

I can learn something about his service in the “Forgotten Theater of World War II” by rooting around the Internet and reading the stories of the men and women who served in the India-China Division, but it’s not enough. I wish I could talk sit across from him at our old dining room table and ask him how he started in a gliding academy and ended up serving as a clerk in India, how his war experiences changed his life, what he learned about himself during his years in the army, how he coped with being away from my mom whom he had married just a year before enlisting. 

In his obituary, one that Daddy wrote himself because he wanted to make sure that we got it “right,” he described his degrees and his work for the Social Security Administration (he helped to set up the Medicare program), the places he and mother lived after they retired, and his volunteer work. He saved his army service for last, almost as a footnote. As I begin my work on a history of my father’s life, I think I’m going to put it first.

Honoring My Father's Service; Donald Whitesitt

Donald Whitesitt reading about the end of World War II

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Linda is our story gatherer.

Read other memories about fathers herehere and here.