Andrew Dys

Immortalized on film and screen

In his Rock Hill house Wednesday night, Ken Bailey sat watching "The War" on PBS television.

About five minutes from the end of that third episode in the movie about World War II, a picture came on the screen. The camera panned upward and showed a Marine on a Pacific beach in November 1943 after a brutal battle.

Bailey sat forward in his chair.

The picture showed a rifle in the foreground. It was an M-1, but Bailey knew that a Browning rifle had been discarded after sand jammed it. Two legs stuck out at the bottom of the picture, belonging to some other guy from Alabama. The camera moved farther up, and Bailey leaned forward more and saw hand grenades on the Marine's uniform.

"Here comes the canteen!" Bailey called out to the screen.

Bailey knew that in a couple of seconds the picture would show that Marine's face drinking from an upturned canteen because he has that picture in his house. Other relatives have that picture in their houses, too. The picture was on the cover of Newsweek magazine on Feb. 14, 1944.

That picture is in Rock Hill houses because the Marine in the picture is Bailey's uncle, Cletus.

Cletus Bailey, an orphan from Rock Hill who was one of 13 kids and didn't get a chance at schooling after the fourth grade.

Immortalized for all time as the hickory-hard Marine trying to slake his thirst after he somehow killed enough Japanese to avoid death himself.

That immortality, the heroism of the late Cletus Bailey, who died three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at age 80, started in a barroom on a Saturday afternoon. On Rock Hill's Curtis Street, the Northside Cafe, a while earlier.

Cletus and some of his buddies from the Industrial mill hill had a few beers and decided then and there to join the Marines not too long after Pearl Harbor. He was sent to the Pacific and was part of the invasion of Tarawa, an island in the Gilbert chain.

"Cletus used to tell us that he came in the wave going over bodies of his buddies that was already dead, and they were yelling for them to get over the wall. And he comes over, and there is this Japanese right in front of his face not a foot away, so he snaps off a shot as fast as he can and falls backward over the wall again," Bailey said. "Then he had to go over the wall again."

Cletus Bailey was one of just 13 out of 49 men in his platoon to live through that battle.

"He said that three Marines were so shot up they begged him to finish them off, but he wouldn't do it," Bailey said. "When he came back through, they were already dead."

Bailey fought more in that war, killed more, for more years. He was wounded several times. Then he came home. But his country needed him to train Marines because the Korean War started, so he became a drill instructor. Cletus then came home to Rock Hill and worked in the dye room in that same Industrial Mill down the block from his house at 16 Barrow St.

He married a lady named Judy Hix that he doted on until she died.

He would often talk about the war, about killing, because that is exactly what he was supposed to do, and he did it.

"He remembered everything, about that picture, the killing, the war, all of it," said Jill Rawls, a family friend.

Cletus in later life would go to Rock Hill City Council meetings and raise a stink over whatever was going on, said Ken Bailey, his nephew.

The viewing public who saw the picture of that Marine on TV might agree Cletus Bailey deserved that privilege -- answers from politicians -- and a lot more, too.

Ken Burns' movie "The War" is running on PBS. The third episode is scheduled to be rebroadcast at 3 p.m. Sunday on WNSC-TV, said Tim Coghill, operations manager for the station. WNSC-TV is seen locally on cable Channel 9.

WANT TO WATCH?

  Comments