It has been 70 years since the United States entered World War II, but one writer has been closely connected to it. James Breig ’64, a retired newspaperman, recently published “Searching for Sergeant Bailey,” a book about an Army sergeant who went off to New Guinea to fight then returned to his hometown near Petersburg, Va.
“There is a line from ‘Death of a Salesman’ that says, `Attention must finally be paid to such a person,’” Breig recalls. “In telling Sergeant Bailey’s story, I am really telling the story of four million other men and women who went around the world and gave up their plans to do what the country asked them to do.”
Breig retired in 2008 as editor of the Catholic newspaper in Albany, N.Y., called The Evangelist. He discovered Bailey’s letters to his mother in an antique store in Virginia. Breig and his wife, Mary Jane, honeymooned in Williamsburg and their daughter lives in the state so they visit regularly. While driving the back roads, they found the shop.
“I saw these letters sitting in a bowl. They were a dollar apiece and were V Mail (victory mail),” he says. He forgot about the letters for several years and when he began writing articles for Williamsburg and for History Magazine he thought they might make a good article. Before long, Breig was meeting the director of Prince George County’s Historical Society and standing in front of the house where Bailey grew up.
“It became an obsession to learn as much as I could about Bailey and his town and county,” Breig admits.
It took three years, but gradually Breig began to unearth the story of the soldier’s life before and after the war. When Bailey was in his late 20s he was a quartermaster, a job that involved supplying ammunition, guns, clothes and food to infantry soldiers. Although Bailey participated in the invasion of the Philippines, he was never captured. He was in the Army for four years and resumed his job as a delivery man for Coca-Cola when he returned. He never married or had children, but is said to have loved a woman named Jane. Although all of Bailey’s relatives are dead, Breig visited Bailey’s hometown and talked to people who knew him to piece together the sergeant’s story. The book was published in 2011 by Park Chase Cathedral Foundation and is available through www.amazon.com or through the publisher at www.parkchasepress.com. Since the book’s publication, Mr. Breig has given about 20 lectures and has done about two dozen media interviews.
Breig wrote for Gilmour’s student newspaper as a student. He earned a bachelor of art in English and a master’s degree in English literature from John Carroll University. He taught at Archbishop Hoban High School and St. Rita School and worked for The Evangelist for 37 years. His column ran nationally in Catholic papers and reached one million readers. Breig has been a freelance writer for Our Sunday Visitor and The Catholic Messenger. He and his wife live in East Greenbush, N.Y. and have three children – James, Matthew and Caroline Hester, plus seven grandchildren.