Andrew Dys

Brain tumor fells Iraq veteran from Richburg

Gregory Bailey Jr.
Gregory Bailey Jr.

RICHBURG -- Sgt. Greg Bailey Jr. survived two Army tours in Iraq. The beanpole-skinny soldier saw carnage and death because small-town guys from rural Chester County who join the Army while still in high school just for a better shot at life see death and do not blink.

His Lewisville High School sweetheart turned nervous wife, Shannon, somehow made it through the deployments. His scared mother, Tina Watson, somehow did, too.

But Bailey couldn't survive brain cancer. He died Tuesday.

He was 26.

"He fought real hard, right to the end, said God will take care of me," said Shannon Bailey, Greg's wife.

Greg Bailey was a Junior ROTC cadet in high school when he sat next to this certain female cadet on a bus trip to a military function. Next thing you know, Greg and Shannon were going together. He enlisted for active duty even before graduating in 2000, then asked Shannon to marry him.

His official duty was mechanic and wrecker driver, but in the Army, in Iraq, even tow truck drivers carry and use machine guns. Those mechanics on convoys fix vehicles that have been attacked. Inside those vehicles are people, or parts of people.

A first tour in 2003 was so secretive, Greg couldn't tell his new bride -- or anybody -- where he was.

"I never thought my son would have to do what he had to do in Iraq," said his mother, Tina Watson. "He wouldn't talk about it."

Six months later, around Christmas 2003, Bailey came home to Shannon at Fort Bragg, N.C. Next Thanksgiving, his son, Andrew, was born.

Just days later, Bailey left for Iraq again. In the dust of the desert, he re-enlisted for another four years. Early in 2005, headaches and vision problems started to creep in. When they hadn't gone away by that summer, a medical scan found a malignant brain tumor the size of a plum.

Doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., took out the tumor, and Bailey began chemotherapy and other treatment.

The family knew that survival for this disease that affects just a handful of people out of millions was, at best, a long shot -- one in four lives two years. Most die sooner.

But Bailey stayed committed to the Army, and went to work every day, his wife said, "with that horseshoe scar on the back of his head."

By December 2006, Bailey was medically discharged from the Army, and later, his family received military disability benefits from his disease.

Bailey brought his family back home to Richburg, and a daughter, Allison, was born almost eight months ago.

"He volunteered to get up in the middle of the night, change diapers, feed her," Shannon said.

This by a man who knew he was going to die.

"He was a great father," said his sister, Ashley.

Bailey worked as a mechanic for a waste company in Columbia and hoped to go to college on the G.I. Bill, then teach JROTC.

"Greg was a man's man," said fishing buddy Damon Vess. "Loved the outdoors. Loved his family."

But Bailey's cancer got progressively worse. His memory loss was so bad, he couldn't tend a garden or go fishing with his Vess or change the oil on the vintage Camaro he kept in the garage.

Toward the end, Greg Bailey, who had saved his buddies in wartime, with so many Army commendations in his little house in Richburg from two tours in Iraq, had to be retaught by his wife how to fold clothes and wash the dishes each time he helped with chores.

Finally, hospice came, and death did, too, on a cold Tuesday morning two days before Christmas.

There will be a family Christmas today, then a funeral with military honors Saturday.

Andrew Bailey, Greg's son, said after his daddy died, "I just don't know what I am going to do. It's just me and Mommy and Ally. I'm the man of the house now."

Andrew Bailey, man of the house on Christmas, opening his presents today, last month turned 5 years old.