MARYSVILLE — Walt Bailey was a man of deeds more than words, with roles that ranged from Pearl Harbor survivor to local firefighter to avid outdoorsman.
But to his three sons, the 96-year-old was simply “Dad.”
Dennis Niva officiated Bailey’s funeral at the 92nd Street Church of Christ June 25, recalling how the World War II veteran took aim at Japanese aircraft with his sidearm on Dec. 7, 1941, before he realized that he didn’t have any ammunition.
“That was who Walt was,” Niva said. “He was willing to give his own life so that we might remain free.”
Niva recounted how Walt’s loved ones agreed that one of the things he loved most was hunting. Bailey’s oldest son, Curt, remembered serving as his dad’s “pack mule” during treks through forested mountains, as they tracked bears and shot grouse.
“One time, we came upon six blue grouse,” Curt said. “He took the shotgun and got all six, and I got to carry them.”
As adults, Curt and Walt went digging for razor clams, although making a meal proved challenging since “dad was eating them as fast as we could clean them and cook them.”
Middle son Jerry drew laughter from the pews when he admitted how one of Bailey’s attempts to feed his boys resulted in a dinner consisting of potato chips and ice cream.
Jerry expressed gratitude to his father, not only for taking them hiking and fishing, but also for picking them up from sports practice after school, “and even when we were goofing around. He never complained.”
Jerry last spoke with his father over the phone, the night before he died.
“He told me the next day would be the first day of summer,” Jerry said. “I didn’t know he wouldn’t live to see it.”
Bailey’s younger sons agreed that Curt bore the brunt of their father’s toughest treatment, but the two eldest sons thanked the youngest for taking Bailey in for the past 3 1/2 years.
Tim, in turn, thanked his wife, Cathy, for doing his dad’s laundry, making his bed and making sure he enjoyed good meals.
Tim extended his appreciation to Marysville Historical Society President Ken Cage, as well as the trio of area Pearl Harbor memorialists who met with him every month, for “letting him tell his stories over and over again. They honored us by their presence in his life.”
Curt’s wife, Christie, echoed Niva and the boys’ characterization of Bailey as a man who showed his love through deeds rather than words.
“He was a very stoic man, who didn’t display much emotion,” Christie said. “But when we came back from Seattle, after my father died, that was the first time I saw him cry.”
Christie shared how, in the weeks before his death, Bailey apologized to Curt for being hard on him.
“And Walt taught me about everything he was interested in,” Christie said. “He never stopped learning. I wish I’d had a tape recorder. I think we take for granted what our parents know, but it’s because of what they’ve been through, and Walt had been through a lot.”
Indeed, Niva identified mushrooms and motorcycles among Bailey’s diverse interests, while Roger Hots Sr., who grew up in Whiskey Ridge near Walt, recalled the skills he’d picked up building trails and campsites for the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Tim King noted Bailey’s cleverness and industriousness as a machinist for the Marysville Getchell Fire Department. Those talents were put to the test when he wanted to salvage the bell from a schoolhouse that was about to be torn down, so that the next school could use it.
“He finally got it down from its tower, onto the second floor, then slid it down to the ground on a set of planks,” King said.
That bell is now on display at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center at Arlington High School.
Cage repeated the tale of how Bailey happened to meet a fan of his on the trail that bears his name, while Gayle Vyskocil, the daughter of a Pearl Harbor survivor, waxed nostalgic about her group’s regular meetings with Bailey and other Pearl Harbor survivors at the Golden Corral restaurant.
“We really enjoyed his stories,” Vyskocil said, also speaking for Corinne Williams and Judy Morrison, the widows of Pearl Harbor survivors. “He was such a sweet guy.”