HERBERT M. BAKER, JR., 1LT, USA
Herbert Baker, Jr. '30
Date of birth: January 11, 1908
Date of death: June 10, 1940
Herbert Marvin Baker, Jr. was admitted to the Naval Academy from Helena, Georgia on June 22, 1926 at age 18 years 5 months.
Herbert is listed as leaving for "U.S.S. Outside" during Youngster Year. (He was also listed, incorrectly, from Washington; perhaps assuming "Helena" was there instead of Georgia.)
The Howitzer (West Point Yearbook)
From the 1934 Howitzer:
The last words Herb said to me when I visited him at Tripler Hospital in Hawaii that spring day of 1940 were; "There can't be anything seriously wrong with me. Why I was flying day before yesterday!" He had passed the rigorous annual physical exam to remain on flying status just a short time before and we all knew anyone who flew had to be in perfect health.
Herb didn't believe he was sick and I didn't either. He looked great. But the Big C cut him down on 10 June showing no regard for health and youth. Thus ended the life of a man who had everything going for him with a most promising career in the making. Handsome, well built, athletic, highly capable, a winning personality, a lovely wife and charming baby daughter. Herb would have been a great combat leader in the war that was brewing. A great Air Force officer in every sense.
Soon the war caught up all his classmates and no one got around to writing Herb's obit. After forty years memories are dim. Herb was a modest man who kept a low profile. His classmates generally remember him as a truly great guy but can provide few details.
Perhaps Herb's best biographer is his brother, DeWitt B. Baker, nine years Herb's junior. DeWitt idolized his big brother and also became an Air Force officer, carrying on where Herb left off. Besides DeWitt, Herb had a younger adopted brother and sister, Charles Arnold and Dorothy Arnold. They were his cousins, children of his mother's sister, whose parents both died in 1926.
Herb was born on 11 January 1909 in Cordele, Georgia, and attended elementary school there. In 1925 his family moved to Helena, Georgia, where Herb graduated from McRae High School. His parents, Herbert Marvin Baker Sr. and Birdie Veva Varnadoe Baker, bought and operated the New Telfair Hotel in Helena.
Herb must have done pretty well in high school because in 1927 he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. As a plebe he distinguished himself in boxing, but math was his nemesis and he was found in 1928. Returning to Helena he helped his family by taking odd jobs, one of which was delivering bread for a bakery. It was a depressing time for him but Herb was not about to give up. Before the year was out he enlisted in the Army with his eyes on West Point.
Herb managed to get stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and assigned to a West Point prep school there. He passed all the mental and physical requirements for West Point in 1930 but a Presidential appointment eluded him. At the last moment, thanks to the loyal help of his father and mother, Herb received a principal appointment on 16 June from Congressman W.W. Larson. Two weeks later he entered the Academy with the Class of 1934.
Classmate Rip Winkle fondly recalls his first meeting with Herb: "On 4 March 1930 I reported to the United States Military Academy Examiner at Fort Sill. When I arrived there was one vacant seat and the officer directed me to it. I observed a neat and professional soldier sitting directly behind me. He was very friendly and courteous. He asked me where I was from, my appointment (2d alternate), and what my job was. He quickly sized me up as knowing little about the military. When my name was called for personal interview, Herb told me to stand erect and say 'Yes, Sir' and 'No, Sir.'
"I did...On the first day of July at the east sallyport of Central Barracks when the 'Beasts' lined up, who should be in front of me but Herb. We recognized each other immediately and both cried, 'We made it!'"
This anecdote typifies Herb's warm and compassionate nature. As he helped Rip to pass the exam, Herb was always available with a helping hand for others.
Herb was assigned to "H" Company in the Corp along with Rip, and they became roommates. He went out for boxing but switched to gym his yearling year and won his minor "A" in that sport along with a major "A" his First Class year. He did well on the make list too, becoming an acting corporal his yearling summer (those few outstanding first year men selected to drill the new plebes), a corporal his Second Class year, and a lieutenant his last year. These honors were not lightly regarded by the Corps of Cadets. Herb was also active in the Fishing Club and on the Hop Committee, and made Expert with the rifle.
Herb was no top scholar but was not about to repeat his disheartening experience at Annapolis. He kept safely proficient in his studies and graduated 153 in the class of 250.
During yearling furlough and after graduation Herb was a counsellor at Forest Lake Camp for Boys at Warrensburg, New York. He helped eight other cadets and graduated cadets get jobs there. Then he went to Randolph Field, Texas, for primary and basic flying training as a student officer.
A natural athlete, supremely well coordinated, Herb excelled at flying. He selected pursuit (fighters) at Kelly Field for advanced training and became the leader of his flight. It was here in San Antonio, Texas, that he met Martha Ellsworth, a ravishing and dynamic redhead, whom he married on 12 April 1936. He was then at Hamilton Field, California, a spanking new second lieutenant with his prized silver wings.
But Hamilton Field had no fighters and Herb flew Martin B-10s. Here I became friendly with Herb and grew to admire and respect him. He was a sterling officer, always well turned out, a superb pilot, a concerned and loved leader, and a loyal friend.
We were both transferred to Luke Field, Hawaii, with the 31st Bombardment Squadron of B-18 s in early 1938. We often flew together and played a regular game of tennis on the courts behind our quarters on Ford Island, where he usually creamed me. Often we drove with our young wives into Waikiki to enjoy the reasonable Chinese cuisine at "Lousy Chows." His lovely daughter Nancy was born in Hawaii in 1938.
Later in 1938 Herb made a rush trip home to Georgia. His father died. No one dreamed that within two years Herb's life would end too.
His classmates praise Herb so highly he must have been one of the best liked cadets in his company. Words like "loyal, magnanimous, beautiful friend," wrote one. "He plowed a deep furrow, gently," wrote another. "He had all the traits we would like to see in a man," wrote Trav Brown. "He had a greatness that few can claim," wrote another. Ted Hoffman wrote: "He was well-liked by all his classmates and had an infectious chuckle and laugh." "Just a great steady-as-you-go sort of guy," wrote Cy Betts. Several said, "my best friend," and I can add my name to that lengthy list. His early death was a tragic loss to his friends, his loved ones, and to his country.
Herbert is buried in Texas. He was survived by his wife.
Register of Alumni gives date of death but 2nd Lieutenant as his rank; no other information is listed.
From the September 1949 issue of Shipmate:
HERBERT MARVIN BAKER. JR., N'30, (1st Lt, USA). Died 10 June 1940 at Fort Shafter, T. H.
HERBERT MARVIN BAKER, JR., (1st Lt. USA-Deceased). We are sorry to report the death of Lt. Baker who died on 10 June 1940 at Fort Shafter, T. H. Lt. Baker resigned in youngster year and graduated from West Point in the Class of 1934.
Memorial Hall Error
Illness is not a criteria for inclusion in Memorial Hall.