In March of 1945, the Allies were making great progress in the European Campaign. They began the largest serial assault in history during that March. Over 1,800 American and British airplanes in columns that stretched through the skies for over 500 miles were used to transport the parachutist troops into position for a massive strike. The sky troopers would land, attack and hold the positions until the ground forces could relieve them.
One of the service men involved in the huge attack was twenty one year old Burnside Bailey, (everyone called him Burnie). Burnie was born in Rockford and had graduated with the Class of 1941 form West High School. He attended Connecticut Wesleyan College for a little over a year before being called up to attend flight school for the Air Force.
Burnie’s parents, Franklin and Helen lived on Harlem Boulevard in Rockford. Franklin was the President and Treasurer of the Fred A. Smith Lumber Company. Both Franklin and Helen served with the American Red Cross; Franklin was the co-chairman of the Winnebago County disaster committee and Helen was the chairman of the volunteer special services corps. They had another son, Robert who was eighteen and was waiting to be inducted into the service in March of 1945.
The Bailey’s were very proud of Burnie especially when he received his wings on January, 1944 at the Blackland Airfield at Waco, Texas. Burnie had been a part of some serious aerial invasions. One, in September of 1944 was a sky invasion of the Netherlands at Arnhem and then in December, he had flown a mission to relieve the 82nd “Screaming Eagles” in Belgium. His descriptions of the expeditions showed how proud he was to be such a big part of these invasions.
Franklin and Helen heard from Burnie on March 23, 1945 when he wrote of another upcoming invasion. Though he could not give the details, Burnie hinted that this was to be the most massive expedition in history. Later, they would hear that an estimated 40,000 sky troopers took part in the invasion. Burnie was the pilot of a C-47 transport plane that would carry some of the troops from the British Sixth and the United States 17h Air Borne Division. The men would drop into the northwest corner of Germany’s industrial empire, around the city of Wesel. Ninety seven percent of the city would be destroyed in Operation Plunder. Wesel was a target because of its strategic position on the Rhine.
Unfortunately, it was an operation that Burnie would not survive. At first, he was just listed as missing but within a short time that status was changed. The family received the telegram on May 12, 1945 that changed the listing to Killed in Action.
Though his family erected a headstone as a memorial to Burnside Bailey in Greenwood Cemetery, his body is buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery (also known as the Netherlands American Cemetery) in Margraten, Holland. Photographs from the internet show a cemetery that is at once beautiful but also tragic in the number of small white crossed that cover the area.
In an article from May 29, 1945, the Rockford Morning Star listed 125 flags marked by Gold Stars that represented the alumni of the Rockford and West High School boys that had been killed during the war.
Though seventy years have passed since the article first appeared in the Morning Star, time has not lessened the sorrow felt at the number of young men that gave their lives during that and the other wars that our country has faced.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events