Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Valley mourns loss of veterans advocate

WASILLA — Maurice Bailey never quit on life or on Alaska veterans.

From the time he forged his father’s signature on the consent form to join the Army at age 17 until his death on Tuesday, Bailey was a passionate patriot and advocate for veterans of all eras.

For the last two years of his life, Bailey lived every day like it could be his last following a devastating diagnosis. He had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and his survival was estimated at 12 months on the outside. In an interview with the Frontiersman last November, he had already outlived that prognosis by four months.

“I feel as though I’m probably on somebody else’s time, but that’s OK,” he said. “I’ll just borrow somebody else’s next. There is no quit. No way, no how. I’m never going to prepare myself to die. Never. I’m going to die when I’m supposed to.”

The 71-year-old Army pilot and mechanic spent the last part of his life working for veterans as co-founder of Veterans Aviation Outreach, an organization that identifies veterans in Bush areas of the state and connects them with benefits they’ve earned. He was also president of the Mat-Su chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. His efforts were recognized in 2007 when he was presented the Alaska Governor’s Veterans Advocacy Award.

News of his passing drew comments from his admirers, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, whose written statement urges others to continue Bailey’s work.

“I am profoundly saddened by the loss of my dear friend, Maurice ‘Mo’ Bailey, who will long be remembered as one of the Alaska’s most significant veterans’ leaders,” she says in the statement. “Mo reminded us through his daily life how one person can truly make a difference in the lives of others. His was a life of service, humility and grace.”

Murkowski also spoke from the Senate floor on Thursday to pay tribute to Bailey.

Dave Glenn shared a bond with Bailey only another veteran would understand, he said. Glenn is owner of Grasshopper Aviation in Wasilla, and with Bailey founded Veterans Aviation Outreach. When his friend died Tuesday, Glenn said he wasn’t surprised, but is sad.

“I remember him mostly as a fellow veteran sharing a common cause and helping the new veterans,” he said. “He was a compassionate person who was always interested in helping veterans. That was his sole mission.”

Like Senator Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, expressed sorrow to learn of Bailey’s death.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Mo Bailey,” Begich says in his statement. “Mo has been a strong voice for Alaska’s veterans. ... Mo’s tireless efforts on behalf of rural veterans were instrumental in connecting them with much-needed services and support from the VA and other providers.”

Bailey was born April 20, 1939, in Memphis, Tenn., and said he knew early in life a career in the military was his destiny.

“There was a Naval base near my house when I was a kid and B-17s would fly over the house. I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to be flying one of those things someday,’” he said. “Black people there said they didn’t think that would ever happen. They said, ‘This guys is nuts.’ But at 7 years old I knew that this is the United States of America and you can do anything you want to do. That was my heart’s desire.”

Bailey recalled one close call he had on a night mission in Vietnam as a gunner on an aircraft.

“I had passed out,” he said. “It was what they called an emergency mission. I was sleepy, plus I’d been at the beer garden. I was full of Pabst Blue Ribbon. In my little cubby hole in the helicopter, I passed out in the middle of a firefight. When I got back the next day, I looked and there were bullet holes all around where my head would’ve been.”

With the accolades and attention he generated for his work for veterans over the last years of his life, Bailey maintained he was never comfortable being in the spotlight.

“That’s not what I’m motivated by,” he said. “I see too much of that. It’s something that’s hard to explain what motivates me. Helping people is just what seems natural for me to do.”

Bailey never gave up, Glenn said. He was at Providence Hospital for the last several weeks, but insisted he wanted to see his step-daughter again before he passed. The step-daughter lives in Tazmania and arrived on Monday.

At the end of his interview last November, Bailey said he was a realist and knew that eventually the leukemia would take his life. He offered advice for others in dire straights.

“Don’t take anything as a death sentence. Don’t do it,” he said. “I was in the Army for 20 years. There’s no such word in my vocabulary as ‘quit.’ No surrender here, and leave no veteran behind.”

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Source: By Greg Johnson. Originally published June 15, 2010