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In late October, Howard residents gathered at Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia to honor World War II veteran and community leader Vivian “Millie” Bailey.
Bailey, 102, who has lived in Columbia for 50 years, was present as County Executive Calvin Ball officially opened the Vivian C. “Millie” Bailey Neighborhood Square in her honor on Oct. 22.
“It’s quite an honor, and I never had expected to receive an honor quite that prestigious,” Bailey said in an interview Tuesday. “I feel honored to have had that done for me in my name.”
Bailey enrolled in the Women’s Army Corps, the women’s branch of the United States Army from 1942 to 1978, in December 1942. They were the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army. Bailey — who used her maiden name, Corbett, at the time — was lieutenant second-in-command of the Women’s Detachment at Fort McClellan, Alabama, from April 1943 to May 1944. After that, Bailey served as the unit commander of Women’s Detachment #2 from May 1944 to January 1946 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“The reason that I went into the Army, the main reason, was that jobs were not good in Oklahoma, where I lived in Tulsa. Because of the segregation, the jobs were limited. That was the reason I went into the service,” said Bailey, who is Black.
From November to December 1944, Bailey attended the Adjutant General School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Bailey said that was a particularly memorable time for her and one she remembers vividly; it was the only time she served in a nonsegregated space during her time in the military.
“The only time that I wasn’t segregated when I was in the Army was when I was in the adjutant school. It was a couple of weeks,” she said. “The commodore at the school said there would be no segregation under [his] command.”
Bailey, one of two Black women in her class at the Adjutant General School in 1944, said Black women in the military today have a completely different experience than she did during her time because her experience was nearly entirely segregated.
“The young people today might have different reasons for choosing to go into the service,” she said. “I was, of course, wanted to serve my country, but I was also taking advantage of the fact that I figured that would give me some training and experience that I could use later.”
Bailey was honorably discharged from the Women’s Army Corps as a first lieutenant in January 1946.
Twenty-four years later, after working for the Veterans Administration in Chicago, Bailey moved to Howard County with her husband, William, and began settling into the community. She started donating to and volunteering at Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.
Bailey also became involved at Running Brook Elementary School, volunteering and raising money to support the students there. She became a staple in the community and continues her efforts. In 2015, she met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House, along with Running Brook Principal Troy Todd and teacher Melissa Peyton.
“Ms. Millie has a spirit that defines the greatest generation of America,” Ball said at the park ribbon-cutting. “It is my hope that as our community enjoys this new park for many, many years to come, we will always remember the spirit of service and courage of Ms. Millie.”
The 26,000-square-foot, multiuse park named in Bailey’s honor is set to be the home for the Howard County Veterans Monument, currently being developed by the Howard County Veterans Foundation.
“I and the other 20,000 veterans of Howard County are excited for Millie Bailey Park, the future home of the Howard County Veterans Monument, to open,” Howard County Veterans Foundation President Bob Gillette said in a statement. “This achievement brings us one step closer in making the [Columbia] Lakefront a place where our community can come to celebrate, not only the life and legacy of Millie Bailey, but the service and sacrifice of our veterans and military families.”