Enoch Bales Jr.
Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant Enoch Bales Jr. (known to his family as “junior’) was born at Richlands, Virginia, on Independence Day—July 4—1922. The only son of Stanley E. and Magdalina (“Maggie”) Marshall, he grew up in McDowell County, West Virginia, where the family relocated early in his life. He received most of his education in the schools of Welch in McDowell County, although a memorial service notice for T/Sgt. Bales in the Welch Daily News (May 25, 1948) reports that he graduated from high school in Cumberland, Kentucky, where his family lived for a short period of time before returning to West Virginia. One thing that is known of his education is that he was a drum major for his high school band.
According to U.S. Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Enoch Bales Jr. registered for the army at Huntington, West Virginia, on July 17, 1943, at which time he would have been twenty-one years old. His enlistment record indicates that he had completed four years of high school; was single, without dependents; and his civilian occupation was in the category of “foremen, services amusements.” T/Sgt. Bales received his diploma and gunner’s wings at Harlingen Army Air Field in Texas, with additional training at Salt Lake City, Utah.
|T/Sgt. Bales presumably lost his life on May 24, 1944, when the B-24 Liberator bomber (on which he was a gunner) carrying him and nine other crew members disappeared in the South Atlantic. In addition to Bales, the crew consisted of pilot 2nd Lt. Gilbert J. Van Iderstine, co-pilot 2nd Lt. Ralph Wayne Rankin, navigator 2nd Lt. John T. Emmett, bombardier 2nd Lt. Louis B. Seitz, engineer S/Sgt. Jefferson D. Melton, radio operator S/Sgt. Jewell R. Bailey, armorer gunner Sgt. Charles H. Shaffer, gunner Sgt. Martin J. Gibbons, and gunner Sgt. William C. Austin. (Writing for Ancestry.com, the son of a B-24 Liberator crew member provides a brief summary of the craft’s design and engagements in World War II, noting that many crew members believed their chances of survival were small, a belief confirmed by the fact that about one fourth of Liberator crew members did lose their lives. [Source: “B-24 Liberator,” accessed April 1, 2013, http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~webermd1/Liberator-Info.html.]) Sgt. Bales’ plane was flying from Brazil to Africa in preparation for the invasion of France (“D-Day” or Normandy, June 6). As a U.S. serviceman missing in action or buried at sea, Enoch was memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at East Coast Memorial in New York City.|
When those in service have been missing one year plus one day, they are presumed dead, and Mrs. Marshall was officially notified on May 25, 1945, of the loss of her son. Later, she planned an “impressive service” at “beautiful Woodlawn Cemetery near Bramwell” for Memorial Day of 1948. There she had placed an obelisk, draped in black, and inscribed with the name of T/Sgt. Bales and an aircraft on one side and the names of his fellow servicemen on another. Families of two other crew members—Emmett and Rankin—indicated they would attend the “solemn” service (Source: Welch Daily News, May 25, 1948).
And that might have been the end of the story—Sgt. Bales was an only child and unmarried, without children, whose parents were long since deceased. Like so many of his World War II compatriots, he might have been forgotten. But in January 2013 the story picks up once again. Russell Broxterman, who has a great deal of experience in metal detection, was searching the old Topeka Army Air Field in Kansas looking for World War II relics, when just below the surface he found an extremely shiny dogtag. The condition of the tag led him to believe it was of recent origin, but his curiosity was piqued, and he enlisted the help of a friend with experience in doing genealogical searches online. His friend informed him that the dogtag was that of T/Sgt. Bales, who went missing during the war, and that Bales was an only child. Still, going on the fact that Bales was from McDowell County, he contacted the public library, where cooperative librarians were able to provide the Welch Daily News story about the 1948 memorial service. They also connected Broxterman with James “Coney” Bales, whose father was a cousin to Junior. Eventually, the story would lead to Shelby Jean Clark, Maggie Marshall’s niece, who lived near her aunt during the last years of Mrs. Marshall’s life and looked after her affairs. Coney Bales felt that Shelby Jean should be the one to receive the dogtag. (Source: Bill Archer, “Dog Tag Detectives: W. VA. Family Reunited with Relic Reminder of Supreme WWII Sacrifice,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph Online, accessed March 14, 2013, http://bdtonline.com/local/x503853849/Dog-tag-detectives/.)
Reminiscing about her cousin’s and her family, Mrs. Clark stated that her father and his mother were brother and sister in a very close-knit family. Maggie was the oldest daughter, and she assumed the role of “second mother” to her younger brothers. As the daughter of one of those brothers, Shelby Jean enjoyed a special lifelong relationship with her aunt, becoming a surrogate daughter when Maggie was left childless at Enoch’s death.
Mrs. Clark noted that, although Stanley Marshall was a stepfather, he always treated Enoch as though the latter were his biological son. In West Virginia, the family lived in Roderfield (near Welch, McDowell County), where Stanley was a coal miner, but in the early 1950s, they relocated to Staunton, Virginia, where he worked for American Safety Razor.
Shelby Jean fondly recalled Junior, characterizing him as “one of the finest young men I have ever known…a real gentleman.” She went on to say he was “tall, thin, and handsome, with wavy hair” and he was “sweet.” He was also known as a very good dancer; family lore has it that when he joined the military and went to dances, while he was dancing with one girl, all the other girls lined up to dance with him. When the family lived in West Virginia, he had a black dog he had named “Coalie.”
Mrs. Clark told a story about a party her mother and father gave for Junior when he returned home on leave after his training. At that time he confided to his Uncle Shorty that he had a strange feeling that he wouldn’t make it through the war. Shelby Jean indicated that her aunt took Junior’s death very hard and never got over it; Maggie Marshall would later lose her brother Marvin in the war, so she was grieving for her two losses at the same time.
Maggie Marshall would spend the last ten years of her life combating two serious illnesses. As the person with the closest emotional ties to her aunt, it fell to Shelby Jean, who had lived nearby in Virginia, stopping by on a regular basis and living with her the last six months of her life, to disperse her aunt’s personal items. Maggie had kept all of Enoch’s possessions in a trunk, but deliberately “lost” the key so she wouldn’t have to deal with the memories. On her death, the trunk was pried open, and Mrs. Clark still has “the little white gown he was christened in as a baby,” while her daughter has the desk he used when he was in the first or second grade.
Although T/Sgt. Enoch Bales Jr. never married and had no brothers or sisters, he is remembered. His mother ensured that remembrance when she placed the memorial stone in Woodlawn Cemetery, but he is also remembered by his cousin and her family, as well as the extended Bales family. While he may have had a premonition of his death, he could not have predicted the legacy that survives him.
Family information provided in an interview (March 28, 2013) with T/Sgt. Bales’ cousin Shelby Jean Clark. Additional family information provided by James “Coney” Bales, whose father was also a cousin. Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure.
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.
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