George Bagley of Rotunda was in the U.S. Army for 22 years— from 1942, during the middle of World War II, through the Korean War and on until 1964 near the beginning of the Vietnam War.He first saw action during the ’42 North African Campaign. Bailey was a 24-year-old sergeant attached to Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army in the North African desert. What the 97-year-old remembers most today is the part he played in the disastrous battle in which American troops first fought German Gen. Irwin Rommel—‘The Desert Fox’ at the Kasserine Pass.
“When we got to the pass they told us to dig in. They expected we would be bombed by the Germans and we were,” he said. “The Stucka dive-bombers flew in strafing and bombing us. It was bad.”
Shortly afterward Gen. George Patton was sent to North Africa to take command of American forces there. When he arrived things began to improve for U.S forces.
“Patton was the one who stopped Rommel in Egypt and forced him back into Germany,” Bagley explained 75 years later.
After North Africa, Bagley and Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army headed for Italy. Patton was the overall commander.
Bagley doesn’t recall the fight the 5th endured on the beach at Salerno, Italy, but he does remember Naples when the Luftwaffe attacked again with Stuckas.
“They bombed us right near the Naples hospital. Thirty-two of our men were killed in the raid that night,” he explained.
While in the Naples area Bagley’s unit connected with the 442nd Infantry Regiment composed of Japanese-American volunteers who fought in Europe during World War II. This unit was the most decorated regiment in the U.S. Army by the end of the war.
“They were wonderful fighters. We went all the way up the Italian boot with the 442nd assisting us. The British 8th Army was fighting the Germans along the east coast of Italy and our 5th Army had the west coast,” Bagley said.
Mark Clark’s big thing during the Italian campaign: He wanted to be the conqueror of Rome. The battle for Rome didn’t work out quite as the general envisioned. The Germans left Rome unscathed so the “Eternal City” wasn’t turned into rubble by opposing armies.
When Clark’s 5th Army arrived at the gates of Rome there was nothing to conquer. The Germans moved out and all the general and the 5th Army had to do was march into the city while facing little enemy resistance.
That wasn’t the case for Bagley and the rest of the soldiers in Clark’s 5th Army as they fought their way up the Italian peninsula toward the Alps along the country’s northern border. It was a tough fight for U.S. forces almost every step of the way north.
One battle Bagley didn’t make on the way up was Monte Cassino, the Catholic monastery the Germans used as a lookout post and artillery base. It was leveled by the U.S. 15th Air Force.
“We didn’t go there but the 442nd did,” he recalled. “The Japanese regiment ran the Germans out of the monastery. The 442nd had the best fighters in the European Theatre.”
“By the time Benito Mussolini (dictator of Italy) and his girlfriend were hanged by Italian partisans I figured the war would soon be over.”
Bagley’s observations about the status of World War II was on the money. The 5th Army was freezing its collective butts off in the Italian Alps when the war ended in Europe in May 1945.
He wasn’t sent home immediately but became a member of the 196th Military Police Battalion station at Camp Darby in Bologna, Italy. It was there he met Lara, she was a seamstress who altered the uniforms for the soldiers at the Army base.
“The soldiers were taking their clothes to her to be fixed,” he said. “When I first saw her she was wearing what looked to me like a wedding ring. I asked her if she was married and she admitted she wore the ring to keep the soldiers from bothering her.
“‘Why are you telling me?’ I asked. She said, ’She told me, I looked like a soldier she could trust.’
“She took me to visit her parents. After a while they gave us permission to get married. We were married in 1946 in Bologna.”
When Bagley returned to the States he was sent to Fort Riley Kansas. He became a Chief Warrant Officer and was involved in helicopters there. During the start of the Korean War he became a member of the Korean Military Advisory Group in 1952.
“We evacuated the president of Korea, Syngman Rhee, out of Seoul and flew him by helicopter south to Pusan,” Bagley said.
It was shortly after the rescue and evacuation of the Korean president he was asked to establish a skiing school in Japan for members of the 24th Infantry Division. The unit was holding the line along the 38th Parallel separating North Korea form South Korea.
“It was important these soldiers learned to ski so they could remove their wounded by skis if need be,” he said.
“While dismounting a tank in the snow in Korea I broke my ankle. I was transferred to Augsburg, Germany for a couple of years where I ran a coffee roasting plant on base there. After that I became a commissary officer at a base in Livorno, Italy. It was my job to go out to the Italian farms and buy the fruit and vegetables for the soldiers on base.”
Bailey retired from the Army in 1964 as a Chief Warrant Officer-2. He left just at the start of the Vietnam War.
He stayed in Italy as a civilian working for the Army as head of the G-3 Training Facility in Vicenza.
A newspaper article notes he received an award for constructing a physical combat testing area for the Missile Support Command. For his efforts he received a superior performance award.
At the time he was the Administrative Assistant for the Automotive Branch for the European Exchange System.
Bailey returned from Italy to the U.S. in 1988. After the death of his wife he came to live with his granddaughter, Debbie Ferjiani, in Rotunda five years ago. He has two daughters: Viviana and Sandra.
Name: George Bagley
D.O.B: 1 Nov. 1919
Hometown: Shelton, Conn.
Currently: Rotonda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1942
Rank: Chief Warrant Officer
Unit: 5th Army World War II, Korean War
Battles/Campaigns: Kasserian Pass, North Africa, Naples
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, August 7, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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