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Virgil Kenneth Baldwin

Young American Patriots, Vol. II

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Virgil Kenneth Baldwin

"We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war."

Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941

If you'll allow me, I'd like to tell you about someone. This someone was an American youth who stood against the tide of fascism in World War II and gave his life for the country he loved. And he has plenty earned his title of one of America's heroes. This someone's name is Virgil Baldwin.

Virgil Kenneth Baldwin was born on January 2, 1921, in the town of Spanishburg here in West Virginia, to Harvey Clinton Baldwin and Nancy Jane Lusk Baldwin. There, Virgil and his large family of nine brothers and sisters lived in a home in Rock, West Virginia. On Rich Creek Road, more specifically, according to 1920, 1930, and 1940 United States Federal Census listings. Virgil was the third child in a family that would eventually consist of Ruth V., Clyde V., Edrie Lucille, Hobart C., Audrey L., Ester L., Shirley Prue, Juanita, and Ralph.

Going up through school in West Virginia, Virgil was likely a typical student. He went up through the Spanishburg school system and finished up at Spanishburg High School in Mercer County. And straight out of high school, Virgil knew the path he wanted to take in his life. Just weeks after the German invasion of Poland (October 23, 1939), Virgil enlisted into the Navy, at the young age of 18.

From there, after a mere year of training from California to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Virgil had attained the rank of machinist second class, which, on a naval vessel, is an extremely important role. He aided and assisted with the maintenance of all the ship's mechanics, from things as simple as refrigeration to things as vital as the boat's engine. And this rank was earned by him at the age of 19.

Just a year after his enlistment, Virgil was being assigned to a ship. On October 19, 1940, Virgil arrived on board the U.S.S. Canopus, a submarine tender, that sent supplies and support to the submarines below.

When the Second World War broke out, the Canopus was put into action. Unfortunately however, the ship herself was badly damaged by heavy bombers in late December of 1941, killing six of her crew and wounding six others.

The remaining crew, including Virgil, decided to scuttle (or destroy) the Canopus themselves rather than having the ship and all its armaments fall into Japanese hands. The crew then made their way to the nearby island of Corregidor to support troops there.

And beginning on May 5, 1942, Japanese troops, led by Major General Kureo Taniguchi, made an assault on both the islands of Bataan and Corregidor. At first, the Japanese were stopped due to the strong currents between the two islands, along with the fierce spirit of those American and Filipino troops defending the islands. However, once the Japanese slowly started arriving on the beach, the battle became one of the Japanese's (along with the Japanese's far superior numbers) accurate mortars versus the not-so-accurate hand grenades the U.S. used in World War II.

Machinist second class Virgil Baldwin sadly was killed on the second day of fighting, and the rest of the troops fighting at Corregidor surrendered three days later. (A more detailed account of the action at Corregidor can be found in Louis Morton's work, The Fall of the Philippines. [See Chapter XXVII, "The Siege of Corregidor," Web, accessed 15 June 2015.])

Virgil was deservingly awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery. Although we have no body to bury, he is remembered by inclusion on the monument at Fort McKinley in the Philippines as well as the West Virginia Veterans Memorial. It is not known whether any of Virgil's siblings are still living, but it is likely because he came from such a large family that there are nephews and nieces who honor and remember him.
Manila American Cemetery

The Wall of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

In conclusion, Virgil was a young American who, at the age of 19, was thrown into the reality of war. I'm sure he must have been terrified while he was awaiting the Japanese at Corregidor, yet he faced the enemy with pride, dignity, and honor until the very end. He was a true American hero.

Article prepared by John Thomas, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015


Virgil Kenneth Baldwin

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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