DANVILLE — When members of the U.S.S. Kenneth D. Bailey Association came together in April to discuss what to do with a clock from the decommissioned Navy ship, it wasn't long before they agreed upon a fitting home — the Danville school also named for the local Marine major and Medal of Honor recipient.
One of the members, who turned out to be a distant cousin of the World War II hero, presented the clock, built by the Chelsea Clock Co., to students and staff at the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy at the school's honors assembly Thursday.
"After a 68-year journey, I'm very happy to present this wonderful clock to the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy," Tom Smith said before a crowd of students, staff, area veterans and community members broke into applause.
Principal Tracy Cherry said the clock will be the centerpiece of the school's wall of honor, which is still in the planning phase.
"The idea is to recognize individuals in our community who have served in the armed forces and have given back to the community by helping youth, our schools, or being involved in some way," Cherry said.
She added that a wall-of-honor committee hopes to recognize five people this spring, in conjunction with Danville High School's annual "Salute to Veterans" concert, and one person each year in the future. Their pictures and biographies will hang on the wall and, like Bailey, they will serve as role models to students.
Part of the Danville school district, the alternative school for middle and high school students became known as the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy when it moved into its current location at 502 E. Main St. in 2012.
Its 75 to 80 students are already familiar with their school's namesake, a 1930 Danville High graduate who, after graduating with a degree in agriculture from the University of Illinois in 1935, entered the U.S. Marine Corps as a second lieutenant and planned to have a military career. He was killed in September 1942 during the Battle of Guadalcanal and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic conduct during action.
Prior to presenting the clock, which he had mounted on a large wooden plaque, Smith shared a bit about the keepsake with them.
"It started in 1945 when the ship was commissioned," said Smith, a Vietnam veteran from Houston who served in the Navy for 12 years and aboard the "KDB" as a chief machinist's mate during the ship's last two years in service.
The destroyer stayed in service for 25 years, Smith said. But in 1970, the Navy retired her. He was part of the crew that sailed her from the Mayport Naval Station in Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to Orange, Texas, where she was "mothballed."
Smith said one of his shipmates removed the clock from the ship and took it home with him, where it stayed for 42 years.
"Last year, he passed away," Smith said. But before he did, he asked his wife to contact the association and make sure the clock was given to it.
"I promised her at the next reunion, I would take the clock with me, and we would discuss what to do with it," he continued, adding that happened when association members gathered last spring for their 20th ship's reunion in Mayport.
Smith said association members learned of the Danville academy from a naval base captain during a formal dinner on the last night of the reunion.
"We were quite surprised and quite happy this academy had been started," he said, adding one of the members suggested the clock should go to the school and the others wholeheartedly supported the idea.
It turns out Smith — a retired general manager of Seimens' service center in Houston and now a company consultant — has another connection to Bailey. When he was researching his mother's family tree in 2005, he discovered he was a distant relative.
On a trip to a county museum in Delphi, Ind., where his mother's family is from, the historical society director put Smith in touch with some long-lost relatives — Ruth Bailey Clodfelder and her daughter, Sharon Pederson, of Hillsboro, Ind. When Smith pulled into the women's driveway, he noticed a car in it had a U.S.S. Kenneth D. Bailey license-plate holder. Then he saw a picture of his ship on the living-room wall.
That's when Clodfelder told him she was Bailey's sister.
"That was quite a shock. I looked at her and said, 'I guess that means we're cousins,'" Smith recalled. He added he thinks he is the only relative of Bailey's who served aboard the ship that bore his name.
Pederson and her sister, Sandy Tarrant, attended the presentation, which included a dedication of a mural honoring Bailey painted by 18-year-old Denyielle Proctor of Danville. At age 15, she became the youngest member of the Walldogs, a group of artists who have painted murals of historic scenes in downtown Danville and other communities.
Proctor's mural depicts a parchment scroll laid on a mahogany table featuring Bailey's portrait along with his Purple Heart, Silver Star and Medal of Honor.
Pederson said her uncle would think all of the fuss "was much ado about nothing."
"He was a Marine's Marine, and he was just doing his job," she said of her uncle, whom she remembered fondly.
But she and her sister were touched by the association's donation.
"I think it's fantastic," said Pederson, a former kindergarten teacher and school librarian who comes from a family of teachers. "It's a piece of history ... and this keeps history in the forefront."