Andrew Dys

Loss of a son never gets any easier for local soldier's family

FORT MILL -- The 8-foot lockers came a few days ago, with Afghanistan stickers. And two boxes.

A son named Josh Blaney at 25 gets killed in a war. The son who, of all the kids, is closest to the mother -- like intertwined fingers, she said.

Uniforms. Pairs of boots. The spitshined ones and the dusty ones. His will. Letters and pictures. His laptop computers with pictures of the beautiful girlfriend and the Army buddies and the three war deployments. A microwave oven and toaster sent by the mother so he could warm up something to eat. An MP3 player. So much more that it covered the living room floor. For three days, Dianne Massey went through it all again and again.

"I just wonder, where are the ballcaps? Josh always had a ballcap on," she said. "I would like to have those ballcaps."

Her husband, Eric, Blaney's stepfather, a great guy with a strong back after more than 30 years in a factory and farming before that, and a big, soft heart to go with it, had no problem with Blaney's life strewn about the house.

Dianne Massey's living room is covered in photos of her son. On the walls, on the floor, on every inch of mantle and table space. One on Santa's lap as a child. A sheaf of papers from men in his unit came, calling Blaney a "fearless leader" over and over again. Guys who asked, "Are we gonna get out of this alive?" were told by Blaney to stay cool, do their jobs, believe in him and "tomorrow will be another day."

That is what is left of Cpl. Josh Blaney, raised in Matthews, N.C., but whose only home after joining the Army -- outside of his base in Italy and the two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq where he got the Purple Heart and the medals -- is Fort Mill. A roadside bomb blew up the Humvee he was riding in back in December. The driver and one other guy lived. The soldier next to Blaney in the seat behind the driver also died instantly. One guy was badly burned; he survived about three weeks. He died New Year's Eve.

That is what wars do. Sons die in wars.

Opposed to war but supported son

Dianne Massey is not a happy woman. She was opposed to the Iraq war from the start, even as her son enlisted more than five years ago. She pleaded with him not to do it.

"There is no way I will ever get rid of how my son died," she said. "Never."

She gets "angry" when anyone says someone who doesn't support the Iraq war doesn't support the troops.

"That is not true," she said. "How dare anyone say I didn't support my son? Or all those sons who came to my home, slept in my home?"

She voted in the Democratic primary last Saturday. All three candidates were opposed to the Iraq war, which her son lived through, only to die in another war afterward.

'Sgt. Blaney'

Josh Blaney wasn't perfect. More than a year ago in Italy -- after two tours of war, before the last one, he lost his sergeant stripe, his mother said.

"There was a big wedding on a Sunday night, and he didn't make it to work on time the next morning," she said.

Blaney, in the first wave of paratroopers to fall into Iraq, a guy his men described as a life saver, girded his resolve and worked to regain that stripe. It never came, even though he had re-earned it. He earned the Bronze Star for valor, too.

During Blaney's funeral in Matthews, U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., kept calling Blaney "Sgt. Blaney." Spratt worked and found that the stripe was being restored.

"He would have got it in January," said Eric Massey, the stepfather. "But for Josh, January never came."

Memories. Dreams. Pictures and letters. A stripe lost from a hangover after fighting two wars. The re-earned stripe saving other sons from the death that came to your son. That is what life is now at the Massey house in Fort Mill.