The Ottumwa Courier

July 2, 2013

Decades after fire destroys home, man gets Purple Heart

Courier staff writer

---- — BLOOMFIELD — Nearly six decades have passed since Jim Bailey lost his Purple Heart in a fire that ravaged his family’s home.

Monday night, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack awarded Bailey the Purple Heart — again — for the injury he sustained during his service as a U.S. Army master sergeant in the Korean War.

On Oct. 1, 1952 during counter-fire against the Chinese on White Horse Mountain, Bailey, who was just 21 at the time, was hit by an 82-millimeter mortar. The explosion badly injured his left leg and buried shrapnel in his arms and face.

He and his wife, Helen, spent two-and-a-half years in San Francisco as he recovered in an army hospital where doctors worked to rebuild his leg instead of amputating it. For his injuries sustained in combat, he received the Purple Heart.

The Baileys then moved to Iowa and bought a small home in the country outside Floris. But six weeks later, on July 4, 1955, the house and all of its contents — including Bailey’s Purple Heart and nine other medals — were destroyed by a fire.

“At the time, those medals were not quite as important because Helen and I had not been married very long, we were starting a family and making a living,” said Bailey, who is now 82 years old. “But as the years go by, you begin to think about them a little more. All those medals, that’s impressive for a country boy.”

At a meeting to discuss state Rep. Curt Hanson’s plans for an upcoming election, where Loebsack and his district representative, Dien Judge, were present, Bailey’s medals came up in conversation.

“He said, ‘I’ll see if I can get them for you,’” Bailey said. “And he did. By gosh, he got those medals replaced.”

His son, Mark, said while he and his siblings had heard some of their father’s war stories throughout the years, they had never seen the medals, the evidence of his valor and strength. Two of Bailey’s three children stood alongside him Monday night as he was awarded the medals: Kristy Bailey-Smith and Mark. Bailey’s other son lives in Minneapolis and could not make it to the ceremony.

“We never expected anything like this,” Helen said. “When you’re young you don’t think about things like that [war medals], but as you get older, you appreciate them more.”

The fire was good for one thing, though, Bailey said. While recovering from his injury, he had been using a wheelchair to get around. But the fire burned and destroyed that wheelchair.

“It’s a lucky thing that fire burned the wheelchair,” he said. “I never went back to it again.”

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.