Soldier with local ties killed in Afghanistan

FORT MILL -- Only death comes in uniform after dark.

It came after 9 p.m. Wednesday. Dianne Massey opened her Fort Mill front door to an Army beret. She screamed "No, not Josh!"

But it was.

Her son, Cpl. Joshua Blaney, 25, had been killed in eastern Afghanistan earlier that day. A bomb blew up the vehicle he was riding in, Army officials confirmed Friday. Blaney was in the lead truck in a convoy.

Massey learned her son was dead as she stood a few feet from his Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal. Blaney somehow had previously survived, though with leg shrapnel and scars, a convoy bomb in Iraq on an earlier tour. He was in the lead truck that day, too.

"I immediately remembered his fifth birthday party, the GI Joe cake," Massey said Friday. "He would pitch a tent and play Army with his uncle who was in the Special Forces. They would eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat.) There was the time at Wal-Mart. He was 8, or 9. We walked out, and he had this bulge in his pocket. I asked him, 'Josh, what's in the pocket?' Out comes the GI Joe. I marched him right inside and made him give it back."

Blaney is the sixth military member with York or Chester county ties to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul Neff II, Pat Leach, Kenneth James Butler, Logan Tinsley and Zandra Worthy-Walker also were killed in action.

A paratrooper with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Airborne, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Blaney was based at Forward Operating Base Curry in Afghanistan, said Maj. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman. Another soldier, Michael Gabel of Louisiana, died when the vehicle ran over the bomb, Banks said.

Blaney grew up in Matthews, N.C., and graduated from Butler High School in 2002. After enlisting, he lived the past five-plus years in Italy at Camp Ederle when not deployed. He was five months into his second tour in Afghanistan after the Iraq deployment and had recently signed re-enlistment papers for two more years.

"He told me he would make a career out of it," Massey said.

Blaney was part of the paratrooper drop into northern Iraq in 2003 that was the first of its kind for the Army since Vietnam, his mother said. Since Blaney's death, e-mails have poured in to family members from his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, calling him a top-notch paratrooper and friend.

Other e-mails described him as compassionate to his fellow soldiers and a mentor to younger men.

"A leader," said his sister, Carley.

Blaney was divorced and had no children. He's Massey's middle child. He joined the Army after his mother and stepfather, Air Force veteran Eric Massey of Fort Mill, urged Blaney to try college. The Masseys then pushed the Air Force.

"He told me the Army would give him the discipline he needed, the focus he needed to figure out what he wanted to do with his life," Massey said.

Humble and gracious

Eric Massey said his stepson was usually quiet about duty when in Fort Mill on leave.

"There would be 20 people in the living room, he would sneak into the kitchen," Eric Massey said. "He did his job, and he did it well."

Blaney's sister said her brother was a humble, gracious guy who rarely talked about what he had seen or done in the wars.

Dianne Massey's sister, Amy, whose husband is that Special Forces uncle that Blaney played "Army" with all the time, said, "Josh went in the Army a boy, and he came out a man."

Massey didn't press her son to give up details of war. She did agree to give interviews to television when he came home on leave for Christmas a couple of years ago.

"The worst he ever talked about was one time in Iraq when this Iraqi set himself on fire and he had to watch the skin burn right off him," she said. "What he had to do in battle, he never said."

Fun-loving and generous

Joshua Blaney also loved a good time, too, his family said. He was just a shade under 6 feet tall, a solid 200 pounds.

"All muscle," said his sister.

He would down a cold beer like most three-time deployed soldiers down a cold beer after what they've seen and done in wartime, his mother said.

"I handled his accounts, and one time I saw this bill for $600, and he told me his buddies had run up a tab they couldn't pay," Massey said. "So, he just paid it himself. That's the kind of guy he was."

He had a Romanian girlfriend in Italy, one of the reasons he re-enlisted, his mother said.

"A true ladies man," his sister said.

Blaney's father, Charley Blaney, and two stepsiblings live in Matthews, Massey said. Funeral arrangements have to wait until her son's body gets home, she said.

Blaney's grandfather, Sid Belk, is an 84-year-old World War II Army Air Corps veteran.

"Thirty-three missions over Germany," Belk said of his own service. "I know what my grandson was doing. He was a fine soldier. Brave. I am proud of him."