Norma Bailey is not one to make a fuss. Before the 24-year Army veteran was interviewed, she had already said that what she did wasn’t that special. Sure, as a 22-year old she enlisted in the Army. And sure, she was deployed to Germany in 1945 to help the troops navigate post-World War II Europe. And sure, she was in the Army for 24 years, ultimately making the rank of First Sergeant.
“But I don’t think what I did was that special,” she said.
Norma Bailey was born in Lawrence, Kansas in 1924, had lots of friends growing up and loved playing basketball in high school. After graduating, she noticed many of her friends had joined the army.
“There weren’t that many friends left,” the now 94-year-old remembered. “I was hearing the call, too. I wanted to help, so I made the decision to enlist.”
The year was 1944.
After basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Norma became part of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), an all-female unit of The United States Army established during World War II. It was officially started in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing women to be enlisted and appointed to noncombat roles in the United States Army.
“It was around the time Hitler and his girlfriend committed suicide,” said Bailey. “My memory might not be what it once was, but I do remember that. Soon after, many of the camps stateside were closing, because the war was over. I helped in those places making sure those closings went smoothly.”
Those closings brought her to an Army medical unit in Washington where she was ward master, as well as to camps in the California desert and in San Francisco.
“After that, the Army was asking for volunteers to serve in Germany,” Bailey said. “I didn’t hesitate and went to Germany. I remember we went by boat and I was stationed in Frankfurt.”
The aftermath of the war in Germany made a big impression on Bailey.
“Before arriving, I remember I was curious about what war does. There were lots of bombed buildings and some of them had the stench of bodies,” she said. “It was so close to the end of the war, some of those buildings still had bodies in them.”
On the Frankfurt base, Bailey was part of the personnel office.
“I was tasked with keeping military records for enlisted men,” she said. “It meant mapping where soldiers had been, how much leave time they had left and if they were properly paid.”
During her leave time, she would travel back to the United States for a few weeks, before heading back to Germany. Although Bailey isn’t sure how long her deployment lasted, she estimates it was between five and ten years.
“I’m almost 95 years old, so you’ll have to forgive my memory lapses,” she said. “Take it from me, time goes by very quickly.”
Although she is adamant that her accomplishments aren’t worth mentioning, Bailey is proud of her time in the service.
“I’m very patriotic. I was patriotic when I enlisted and I still am,” she said. “I am proud that I was able to serve my country.”
After returning home, Bailey worked the remainder of her active duty years at Fort Lee, Virginia, before she was discharged and settled in Charlottesville.
“I was discharged in 1967,” Bailey said. “That’s 51 years ago. I have no regrets. If I could do it all over again, I would. Oh, yes I would.”
From time to time, people thank Bailey for serving all those years.
“They will say ‘thank you for your service’. That is always nice to hear and I appreciate it very much. But tell me, was it really that special what I did?”