Freezing temperatures, high-risk operations and knowing you could find yourself on the wrong side of a gun were just some of risks that the enlisted men in the United States Army were up against along the forward areas of the Korean War.
PFC Philip G. Bailie, at just 16, was one of these men. He was on assignment as a chief intermediate speed radio operator with the 8th Army, 10th Corps, General Force HQS, Special Activities Group, 2nd Raider Company when he was wounded in the forward frozen area of North Korea.
On Monday, family members gathered at the Swain County Administration Building in Bryson City with Philip to present him with a shadowbox that included not just the Purple Heart he earned during his service but also several other decorations and commemorative medals and an American flag.
The effort surprised him, as there were several honors that he didn’t even know he had earned. In total, decorations included the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Korean War Service Medal and United Nations Korean War Service Medal.
Commemorative medals included were: Combat Service Commemorative Medal, 50th anniversary of the Korean War Commemorative Medal, Anniversary of the Korea Defense Commemorative Medal, Korea Presidential Unit Citation Commemorative Medal, Overseas Service Commemorative Medal, Korean War 65th Anniversary Commemorative Medal and Korean War Commemorative Medal.
His son, Jim Bailie, a retired Colonel in the United States Army who has been in three combats himself, shared his father’s story and presented the shadowbox.
A risky mission
Bailie grew up in the mountains of southern Virginia and joined the Army at 15, lying about his age to get in. He served from September 1949-October 1952.
The 2nd Raider Company was like the Special Forces units of today. Known as a special activities group, they worked directly for the generals for the 10th corps with support from Republic of Korea on special assignments often behind enemy lines.
Bailie was deployed to the Korean theater of the war on the front lines of the North Korean sector. His mission was to deliver a South Korean spy behind enemy lines, drop him off and then the spy would infiltrate into the North Korean Army. Bailie was both the driver and the communications operator.
On the first attempt in the bitter cold, North Korean refugees were coming down from the mountains and told them “turn back, turn back!”
The Chinese hordes had pushed back the troops, and it didn’t take long for them to get out of there, Jim said.
The second attempt was on the eastern coast, and Bailie made the drop and got out. He was told to return to general headquarters and reinforce the South Korean Army, but as he was headed back he started receiving enemy fire from the hills above the trails. He was ambushed and dove into the snow.
“They were firing in such a manner that would scare anybody,” Jim said. “Dad jumped from the half track and landed head first into three feet of snow. He crawled to a shanty shack and fired back. While in the fight, a bullet went straight through his arm.”
Bailie made it to a medic truck, but on its way back to the rear of the fighting, the rescue vehicle was also taking fire and he lost a friend and fellow soldier in the fight.
He was treated at a series of hospitals in Japan, Hawaii, and in Florida.
He was then reassigned and served the remainder of his service stateside.
‘The Forgotten War’
“I’m honored,” Philip Bailie said as he accepted the shadowbox from his son, while a small number of other family members were in attendance. “I’m happy, I really am.”
The Korean War, lasting from 1950-1053, is often referred to as The Forgotten War. For much of his civilian life, Bailie kept his story of service and being wounded in the war to himself.
After the service, he spent some time working in a canning factory, and he went to night school to catch up on the education he missed. Then, he worked with Florida Highway Patrol as a state trooper for 35 years.
“In Tallahassee, I never mentioned about me being a combat wounded veteran, but as I age and I have grandchildren, I want them to know. I’m a proud American, and I’d do it again,” Bailie said.
He thanked his family and shared his pride in their accomplishments.
“My wife raised three fine sons,” he said, adding that two became Colonels in the Army and a third son has had a successful career.
Bailie didn’t actually get his Purple Heart until 1998, and said at first he was told he didn’t deserve one. “It took a state senator to get it,” he said.
“I’m just proud to be an American and to have a wonderful family and a wonderful community,” Bailie said.
His family has been a part of the community since 1972, and they have a cabin in Deep Creek. Philip and his wife attend Church of God in Deep Creek.
Those who know him also know that Philip likes to share his stories and enjoys a good laugh. He remembers going to Bristol, Virginia to enlist with his two cousins who were 16. After hearing the articles of war, and that could face jail time for lying, he said, they fessed up, but not him.
He heard the articles of war read again in those first few months. “I’d just shake in my boots,” he said.
“I had a captain in North Korea, he said, ‘you’re not old enough to be here,’ and I said, ‘Sir, how’d you know’” Bailie recalls. “He asked, ‘do you want to go home?’ I said no, but after I got shot, I kinda changed my mind!”
Now, Bailie is proud of his service and is happy to share that he earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War. In fact, he wears his Korean War Purple Heart hat most days when he ventures out into Bryson City.