World War II vet still breaking the mold at 102

As a Black girl growing up in the early 1920’s, Vivian Corbett never thought the world was her oyster.

“As a little girl in Oklahoma, I never imagined I would be able to do anything of any real significance,” she said.

Now, a century later, former Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey will tell you there’s very little that hasn’t been significant. She commanded a segregated all-female unit during World War II and has been helping service members ever since. At 102, she continues to live life to the fullest. In fact, she just went skydiving for the first time last month near her home in Columbia, Md!

“When the senior [President] George Bush did it, that made me realize that people who were not young could do it,” Bailey said during a phone interview. “It was just something I always thought I would like to do.”

That can-do attitude has taken her far in life.

Bailey joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later dubbed the Women’s Army Corps) in the early days of World War II. She was commissioned as a first lieutenant and served as the commander of an all-female detachment before being selected to attend the Adjutant General School Officers’ Administration Course. As one of only two Black women in the class, she graduated with outstanding marks and went on to serve for the first time with an unsegregated unit.

Women’s Army Corps officers in England inspect the first contingent of Black members of the Corps assigned to overseas service in February 1945. (National Archives photograph)

Bailey was discharged after the war ended, but in a way, she never stopped serving. During the Vietnam War, she and a group of friends put together care packages for deployed service members. She did it again for troops during Desert Storm. Since 2004, she’s been packing boxes, soliciting funds and calling elected officials for contributions as part of an effort that has sent hundreds of care packages overseas.

The service members who receive the boxes are pretty vocal about what they want to see in them, she said.

“We used to send quite a few personal hygiene things, but it became quite clear that the main things that the soldiers wanted [were] snacks,” Bailey said.

A lot has changed since her time in service, so she said she wouldn’t know what advice to give current female service members. But she did offer a tip that might be the key to her longevity: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

World War II Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey pushes a shopping cart full of packing peanuts that will be used in care packages being sent to deployed troops. (Photograph courtesy of Martin Johnson)

“I religiously try not to worry about anything I can’t do anything about,” she said. “If I can’t do anything about it, why fret over it?”

Bailey has earned several accolades in her lifetime, including from President Donald J. Trump and other lawmakers. Recently, Maryland’s Howard County dedicated a park to her. She joined officials for the unveiling of the new Vivian C. Millie Bailey Neighborhood Square.

“It made me feel very, very honored,” she said. “I’ve received a number of honors, but I never expected to have anything quite that prestigious.”

Bailey said there are very few things left that she’d like to do, but there is one item left on her bucket list.

“Meet Michelle Obama,” she said, referring to the former First Lady. “President Obama received me at the White House in 2015, but Mrs. Obama was not there.”

Bailey said she’s received two letters from Mrs. Obama over the years, so hopefully, that dream can be checked off the list, too!

World War II Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey shops at Costco for supplies to send in care packages to deployed service members at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. (Photograph courtesy of Martin Johnson)
Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey commanded a detachment in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II. (Army photograph)
Former Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey shows off a veterans coin she received during the unveiling of a park named in her honor in Columbia, Md. (Howard County, Md., photograph)
Former Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey shows off a veterans coin she received during the unveiling of a park named in her honor in Columbia, Md. (Howard County, Md., photograph)
World War II Army 1st Lt. Vivian “Millie” Bailey sits at a table that honors her at a Maryland Mission BBQ restaurant. On the wall above her is her service photo. (Photograph courtesy of Martin Johnson)

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