Not many people would consider what happened to Marine Cpl. Larry Bailey a happy story, but his father prefers to look at the way life changed for his son after his catastrophic battle injuries.
The younger Bailey lost his left hand and both legs below the knee in an explosion in Afghanistan.
That was in June 2011, when his unit was kicking off an operation to take on the Taliban, Bailey told the Chicago Tribune in 2015. Those in the 3rd Battalion, 4th regiment were moving to occupy a new patrol base when they were attacked by small arms and machine-gun fire.
Bailey “aggressively maneuvered onto the roof to repel the assault,” according to the Semper Fi Fund, when he triggered an improvised explosive device.
Buddies who saw Bailey airlifted out of the Helmand Province wondered if he would make it.
The corporal’s life didn’t end that day–even though he later told other wounded warriors he knew it sometimes felt that way.
Instead, Bailey, now 30, accepted his new life as a triple amputee and got used to the bionic hand and prosthetic legs. A year after his injuries, he married a girl he’d known since he was 12, and he and Desiree welcomed their first daughter, Aiyla, in February.
On Wednesday, extended members of the Bailey family gathered at a wooded lot in southern Fauquier County to break ground for a new home.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation–established to honor a New York City firefighter who died saving others on 9/11–will cover all costs of the home and 15 acres of land as part of its Building for America’s Bravest program.
“I tell everybody it’s a fairy tale,” Larry Bailey Sr. said about his son’s transition from a seriously wounded warrior to husband, father and soon-to-be-homeowner. “It’s just a beautiful story.”
The weather was beautiful, too, as several dozen people gathered in the woods of Sumerduck. Flags lined the rural road and the path leading to the stage, where representatives from the foundation sat with those from the businesses that support it.
The Marine, who was medically retired after six years of service, walked up the ramp unassisted.
He sat in a wheelchair next to his wife. In her lap was little Aiyla, wearing baby-blue sunglasses and a pink headband with a white bow.
Bailey was a man of few words during the formal program as he thanked the foundation and those gathered for their help.
Afterward, he said the home will make his life more convenient, with its shelves and counters designed for his height. It’s not the big stuff that gets him, he said, it’s the little annoyances, like not being able to reach the detergent so he can wash dishes.
He doesn’t like for people to help him or feel sorry for him, so he’d rather not ask for assistance.
“I don’t like slowing down,” he said. “I like to keep on moving.”
Bailey also takes care of his daughter, said his mother-in-law, Monique Vickers of Virginia Beach. Desiree Bailey had a cesarean section, and the first time he and his mother-in-law saw the baby, he asked who should hold her first.
“It’s your baby,” she said, as she swaddled the newborn and asked him with which arm he wanted to cradle her. “He bonded with her just like that.”
The elder Bailey, who lives in Illinois, said his son has been positive through the whole ordeal. When newly injured servicemen came to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, hospital officials asked Bailey to talk with them.
He told them to hang in there, even when they felt like life wasn’t worth living. It would get better.
“Most of them came back and thanked him,” the elder Bailey said.
The father spent 30 years in the Navy, including service during the Vietnam War. His son shared his belief that everyone should serve in the armed forces at least three years, though the younger Bailey was in the Marines twice that long.
The elder Bailey is grateful for “what America does for our vets” and is glad to see that treatment extended to Vietnam veterans like himself.
He and others listened to foundation members talk about businesses that provide lumber and carpet, a sprinkler system and furniture, paint and lighting fixtures.
“You can’t find the words to try to thank everybody for the way they’ve touched Larry and our family,” the father said.
Bob Singer, a Unionville resident who rides motorcycles with the Patriot Guard to honor veterans, especially at funerals, said the feelings are mutual.
“You’re showing your appreciation for what these guys do,” Singer said. “That man’s done a lot for us.”
ABOUT THE GROUP
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation was formed by the six siblings of Stiller, a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11.
Siller wasn’t working that day; he planned to play golf. But when he heard the news about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, he headed there. He drove as far as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which had been closed down, then packed 65 pounds of gear on his back and ran through the 1.7 mile tunnel.
He died saving others that day, as did 342 other firefighters, said foundation member Jack Oehm. He’s a retired battalion commander who lost 20 men in the terrorist attack.
“But as we know, good things in life come out of bad,” Oehm told the crowd gathered Wednesday in southern Fauquier.
The foundation was breaking ground for the 50th home built for a service member with catastrophic injuries. The group works with businesses and military organizations to cover all costs of land and homes, with technology and devices catered to the individual’s needs.
Marine Cpl. Larry Bailey and his wife, Desiree, are still picking out styles and design for their house. Oehm invited the crowd to return in six to eight months for the dedication of the house.
He also recalled what happened nine months after he finished his work, picking through the rubble of the World Trade Center. People across the country reached out to help the firefighters who had lost–and given–so much.
“That’s the goodness you see in America,” Oehm said, “the goodness you see in front of you today.”
Cathy Dyson: 540.374-5425
(c)2016 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome
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