Unknown Sailor

S1c Billy Byron Baird

Four men from Delphi, Indiana, population 2,200, were planning to meet the afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941, aboard the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor.

It was Ivan Popejoy’s 22nd birthday, and he planned to celebrate it with his brother Walter and two buddies from back home — Billy Byron Baird and Elmer Lee Foreman.

Instead, Mr. Baird and Mr. Foreman died that day when Japan bombed their battleship, the Arizona. The Popejoy brothers survived, but their battleship, the West Virginia, was heavily damaged and sank. Neither brother knew the other was alive until the next day.

On the 50th anniversary of the attack, Walter Popejoy wrote an account of the assault and its aftermath. One of his assignments was to go aboard the Arizona to try to salvage fire control gear.

“The day I spent aboard the Arizona will never be forgotten,” Mr. Popejoy wrote. “I said a prayer for Lee Foreman and William Baird, my friends from Delphi that were killed. Around the stack on the boat deck was a mound of ashes — no doubt it was the remains of a lot of men. Around one gun I saw the remains — just ashes — of the gun crew. A metal helmet was warped because of the intense heat and there were some ashes in it. I looked down some of the boat deck hatches and saw bodies. I had seen a lot, but this made me sick at my stomach, and I was not alone.”

Walter Popejoy survived the war. He died in 2002. Ivan Popejoy died in 1973.

Their friend Mr. Baird was born Oct. 2, 1922, in Pittsburg, Indiana, less than two miles from Delphi. His father, Byron, served in the field artillery in World War I. As the son grew up, he lived mostly with his mother, Verna, and her parents.

Mr. Baird graduated from Delphi High in 1940 and joined the Navy on Oct. 8, 1940 — the same day as Mr. Foreman. They traveled to Lafayette together to enlist.

Mr. Foreman was born June 25, 1916 in Williamsport, Indiana, about 45 miles from Delphi. By the time of the 1940 Census he was living with Sarah Foreman west of Delphi. Various records identified her as his foster mother, his mother, or his grandmother. The latter is mostly likely true. He served in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era federal jobs program, and in the National Guard before he enlisted in the Navy.

Mr. Foreman was a fireman second class on the Arizona. Mr. Baird was a seaman first class.

Sources: Special thanks to relative Tom Kaser for the photos of Mr. Baird as a boy, including the one with his father. Other sources include: Journal and Courier of Lafayette, Indiana; Delphi Citizen; Carroll County (Indiana) Comet; The Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune; The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania; birth and death records; Navy muster rolls; Census. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.
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