Bailey was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, and shipped to Europe in 1945, where he was part of a machine gun team. He was wounded in an attack near the French-German border, and evacuated to Paris for medical treatment.
In 2007, Bailey told the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress about his time in medical care during World War II.
“Somehow or other the word got out that there was an Eskimo in the bunch. And everyone was stopping to see who the Eskimo was or where he was, so I got up on my elbows to see where this Eskimo was,” he said. “I asked them where the Eskimo was and the orderly says ‘That’s you, you dummy.’”
Bailey was Tlingit, from the Deisheetaan clan’s End of the Trail house, which is called Deishú hit. In the Army, as in much of American society at the time, discrimination was prevalent, and the psychiatrist who interviewed Bailey during his wartime hospital stay didn’t believe that a quote-unquote Eskimo could have survived an attack in which all the white members of the squad were killed.
The Army concluded his injuries were accidental or self-inflicted, and when he was discharged, there was no acknowledgment that he had ever seen combat, and he was denied the Purple Heart he’d earned.
“I would never say he was bitter because he was not that kind of person, but he was hurt,” said his widow, Doris Bailey. “And so many years had passed that he had become resigned to the whole thing and he just simply didn’t talk about it, ever.”
That changed in 1999, when people within the Sitka Tribe of Alaska petitioned the Defense Department to right its wrong. At a ceremony at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Bailey was presented five awards from then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
“And the healing just was amazing,” Doris Bailey said. “He got active in the American Legion and he went to Veterans’ Day activities and Flag Day activities.”
Those activities added to an already full life in Sitka: Twice elected to the school board, a delegate to the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, president of ANB Camp No. 1, the board of the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, the Sitka Community Association, and the tribal council of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
He also served on the board of the Sitka Historical Society.
“Well, I think both of us were kind of history buffs, and the fact that we knew so little about Roy’s background,” Doris Bailey said. “We know a huge amount more now than we did in the 1970s when we started on this quest, and it was important to us because we realized how much he had lost by not knowing his heritage.”
Roy Bailey became an advocate for greater inclusion of Native history in the Sitka story.
“He wanted the Tlingit part of the heritage of Sitka to be included in the western world’s museums and so forth, and he felt like it was such an integral part of the history of Sitka, that how in the world could that be skipped?” Doris Bailey said.
And throughout his life, Doris Bailey says her husband acted as a bridge between the two cultures.
“He would try to keep people from having very common misunderstandings that happen between the cultures and keep everyone on the right path so they don’t misunderstand what’s being said or done.”
In addition to his widow, Doris Bailey, Roy Bailey is survived by four children: Gayleen, Anita, Janice and John, 15 grand children, 11 great grand children, two sisters in law, a brother in law, and many nieces and nephews.
Alaska Native Brotherhood services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday inside the ANB Hall, followed by cultural services. A memorial will take place at 1 p.m. Friday inside the Presbyterian Church, to be followed by full military honors at the National Cemetery.
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