Thomas M. Bailey Sr., a retired Baltimore Fire Department captain and fire academy instructor who was a decorated World War II veteran, died of cancer Saturday at Brightview Avondell independent living in Bel Air. The former Cedarcroft resident was 96.
Family members said Mr. Bailey was raised as an orphan at the old St. Mary's Industrial School in Southwest Baltimore after his father died in a railroad accident and his mother died a year later.
"My father played baseball, performed in shows and played clarinet with the St. Mary's school band," said his son, Thomas M. Bailey Jr. of Jarrettsville. "He was particularly proud of having met Babe Ruth on several occasions and carried a medal given to him by Mr. Ruth throughout his life."
As a young school musician, he played in a national band performance attended by composer and bandleader John Philip Sousa.
"He had a beautiful Irish tenor voice and would sing Irish ballads and songs for both St. Mary's students and for Mr. Sousa until he lost his voice and could no longer sing," his son said.
Family members said that when he graduated from St. Mary's after eight years, he was given streetcar fare and the clothes he was wearing. He swept floors at the old Mount Vernon Mill and later worked at the Social Security Administration and Waverly Press before enlisting in the Army Air Forces in April 1942. He worked in aviation ordnance.
He was sent to Australia and New Guinea and participated in five campaigns. He went from private to staff sergeant in a year.
"He took an old truck and other parts and figured out a way to wrap bombs so they would explode in a jungle and increase their fragmentation effect," his son said.
His work succeeded, and he was awarded the Legion of Merit at a ceremony. His commendation said the bombs were used "with excellent effect in the Papuan campaign and subsequent operations … with several thousand made and expended in a period of six months." He also received other military decorations.
He left the Army Air Forces and entered the Air Force Reserves and then the Air National Guard. He left the reserves as a chief master sergeant with 31 years of service.
In 2009, Mr. Bailey donated his World War II scrapbook of pictures and clippings to the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1947, he joined the city Fire Department and bought his uniforms with his discharge pay from the military. He rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant at one of the city's busiest firehouses, Truck 11 at North Avenue and McMechen Street. As a firefighter, he fought major blazes at the old Shapiro rag warehouse in Hampden, the Beethoven Apartments in Bolton Hill and the old City College on Howard Street.
In 1973, then-Fire Chief Peter O'Connor asked Mr. Bailey to form an honor guard, which he led for many years. He also earned an associate's degree in fire technology at what is now the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. He retired in 1982 as a captain and an instructor at the city's fire academy.
Mr. Bailey had served on a veterans committee that named Memorial Stadium. He was also a Baltimore Colts season ticket holder. He enjoyed listening to Orioles games on the radio.
Mr. Bailey was a veterans' advocate. He served at post, state and national levels of the Catholic War Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans. He was also named an honorary member of the Jewish War Veterans. He was named 1987 Maryland Veteran of the Year.
He had been chairman of the Joint Veterans Committee of Maryland, as well as both chairman and commissioner of the Maryland Veterans Home Commission. He helped establish the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home near Leonardtown.
"He spearheaded the effort to find a suitable location and later worked through the contracts to have it built," said his son, a consulting engineer. "It took 191/2 years."
Mr. Bailey continued his volunteer veterans' service at the Loch Raven rehabilitation center until he was 93.
"Perhaps his proudest accomplishment occurred years ago, when he was instrumental in getting a chapel approved for the Perry Point Veterans Hospital," his son said.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary's of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5500 York Road, where he was a member.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 65 years, the former Thelma M. Smith, a retired hairdresser at Cloud Nine in Timonium; another son, Kevin P. Bailey of Dennisville, N.J.; a daughter, Kathi B. Petrowski of Joppatowne; and three grandsons.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun