Thursday, November 5, 2015

Remembering the sacrifice of Sergeant Henson H. Hailey

I'm seeing a trend of more and more "third party" WWII postcards showing up on eBay. By "third party" I mean correspondence a soldier sent to someone outside his or her immediate family, such as a person they met in the service or a distant relative. I suspect that the people who received the cards kept them in a box in the attic all these years. When they die, their children have no reason to keep a postcard from someone they don't know, so they put it in an estate sale and it ends up on eBay.

That appears to be the case with a postcard written in 1943 by Corporal Henson H. Hailey from Kentucky, who served with the 459th Bomb Group. The card is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. John Barker in Ft. Collins, Colorado. I was able to determine that Corporal Hailey (later promoted to Sergeant), died in Europe on June 3, 1945, about three weeks after V-E Day (May 8, 1945). I also found him listed in a family tree on and contacted “Lynn,” the person who maintains the tree. She explained: "This story didn't have a happy ending. Sgt. Hailey was a crew member on a B24 Liberator. The day he died their plane crashed into the side of a mountain in Austria due to pilot error. He is buried in the American cemetery in Lorraine, France."

Photos of the postcard and Corporal Hailey's grave in France are below. Lynn doesn’t know who Mr. and Mrs. Barker were or why Corporal Hailey was writing to them. She did a cursory search of her family tree and found no connection. Mr. and Mrs. Barker were in their early 40s and had a six-year-old son, Keith. The 1940 census show Mr. Barker being a clerk in a grocery store. In the card, Corporal Hailey wrote, "Hoping to see you all again soon. Hello Keith." I believe one possibility is that Corporal Hailey met the Barkers while stationed somewhere in Colorado and stayed in touch with them by mail.

As often happens, this story led to another one. Lynn pointed me to an article about the sole survivor of that crash, Basil Ricci. A few minutes before the crash, he traded places with the tail gunner, a move that saved his life. He later wrote a personal letter to the mothers of each of the men killed in the crash. It’s an amazing story with too many twists and turns to be told here. You can find the full story of Basil Ricci at

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