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World War II U.S. Navy Armed Guard
World War II U.S. Merchant Marine

In Memory of Tom Bowerman



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Ensign William T. Bailey

picture of Ensign William Bailey

William T. "Bill" Bailey was born in 1914 and graduated from the University of Kansas. With U.S. involvement in the war on the horizon, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve in August 1941. In October 1941 he was accepted for officer training; his college degree must have marked him as officer material. In January 1942, he was commissioned an ensign and placed on active-duty status.

Bailey married Catharine Viola Sparrow on 8 March 1942 in her hometown of Parsons, Kansas. They had probably met while both worked in the insurance business in Kansas City. They were married when he was transferred to San Diego, and she went with him to San Diego.

During 1942, German U-boats were sinking Allied ships faster than they could be built. Naval escorts were stretched thin. From his service record, Bill Bailey seems to have begun in naval intelligence but in April 1942 he and Catharine were in New Orleans, where he reported to the Naval Armed Guard Center. Had he switched to the Armed Guard out of eagerness to see action and to command a small crew of gunners?

Shortly thereafter he shipped out on the freighter SS WICHITA. Later, in September 1942, the WICHITA left the Gold Coast port of Takoradi (now part of Ghana), westbound for the U.S. Virgin Islands. That area of Africa produces cocoa plus rubber, manganese and bauxite was the WICHITA carrying some of those as cargo for the war effort?

Was the WICHITA sailing alone or as part of a convoy? I have not been able to find out. Some time that month (September 19 according to one record), she was torpedoed and lost with all hands: 40 merchant marine sailors and the Navy gun crew of 10. [From the webmaster: Sources indicate German submarine U-516 sank the WICHITA.] She was one of 39 merchant ships sunk that month. The Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean were a "target-rich environment" for German U-boat commanders that year.

Catharine, who had taken a secretarial job in New Orleans, stayed until December, no doubt hoping that Bill would turn up. Then she returned to Kansas City and worked there until mid-1945, when she landed a job as secretary to Maj. Gen. George Moore, commander of Army Forces Middle Pacific (AFMIDPAC) at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.

I found a file of correspondence showing she was unable to claim Bill's military life insurance because he was still listed as MIA until December 1945, five months after the war ended. Even then she had to go through various bureaucratic hassles: the last piece of correspondence was dated October 1946.

In August 1946 Catharine moved back to Kansas City, then Dallas, then Kansas City again. She moved to Colorado Springs, CO, in 1953 and eventually remarried.

Biography and photograph contributed by Charles Clifton, who can be contacted at

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