Vietnam veteran Henri Bailey ’60 learned to “make the world where you are a better place”

Henri Bailey ’60 received several medals for his service in Vietnam.
Henri Bailey ’60 received several medals for his service in Vietnam.
Tom Callins/Black Star

As one of a handful of African American students in his class at Princeton, Henri Bailey ’60 encountered people “who didn’t believe blacks and whites should have academic and social contact, and other people who accepted me wholeheartedly,” he says. “People still run into that sort of thing. It’s part of life.”

Academic struggles — the result of the inadequate preparation he had received in high school for Princeton’s engineering curriculum — led him to leave after a year and a half. He returned to his native Illinois, finished his degree at Roosevelt University, and joined the Air Force. During a 20-year career, he logged 1,763 hours of combat time in the sky and received several medals for his service in Vietnam. While based in Okinawa, he met his wife, Carolyn, an American teaching there, and they had two children after returning to the States. Despite leaving Princeton, he remains connected.

Bailey traded the cockpit for the lectern, teaching business to students at several colleges, most recently Prairie View A&M University in Texas. He also began volunteering at nursing homes, motivated by what his grandfather taught him: “Make the world where you are a better place when you leave it.”

He spent more than 15 years singing hymns and teaching Bible lessons to nursing-home residents, many of whom had outlived their families. “You talk to them about the things they did in life, and you realize the country wouldn’t be what it is without their contributions,” he says. Bailey, who lives in Houston, has limited mobility because of arthritis, but he continues to live by one guiding principle: “You’re bound to encounter obstacles. It’s not your job to whine about them, but to overcome them.”