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My Time In the Service

George Baker (2005)

Raymond (my brother) enlisted before I did by several months which was probably why I did in the early part of November, 1940. Hun (Raymondís nickname) was sent to a field in Washington D.C. so it was important I be sent to someplace farther away so I asked to be sent to Hawaii.

I enlisted (in the Army Air Corps) in Baltimore, November 1940 and was sent to Fort Slocum, New York. This was an island of New Rochelle and was bitter cold. They issued us uniforms and we started basic training. The uniform I was issued was a World War 1 uniform with the high collar and leggings. I didnít like it so I hid it up in the attic of the barrack and told the supply Sergeant someone stole it so they gave me the more modern type.

The training was difficult mostly because of the cold weather. One morning they asked for volunteers for a "honey dipping" job where they said you could stay warm. I volunteered not knowing what the job required. What you did was dip solid things out of the sewage. It wasnít a nice job but you did stay warm. At the end of the day you didnít smell very good.

The flu broke out several days later. Before we were allowed to come home for Christmas and I caught it. If you had a temperature of over 100 you could not come home. I knew mine was this so I kept ice in my mouth until I was ready to have my temperature taken so I passed and was allowed to come home for Christmas.

Christmas of 1940 was the last I was home until January 1943.

I returned to Fort Slocum where we did basic training and any other job they could think up.

While at Fort Slocum I was out one day and saw some sea gulls fly up high and drop something. Looking closer I saw they were dropping shells on the rocks. They would do this until the shell broke and then eat the clams or oyster. It fascinated me to see they were intelligent enough to break the shell by dropping it on the rocks.

We stayed at Fort Slocum until the end of January 1941 when we were loaded on the U.S.A.T. Republic and started our trip to Hawaii. Everything was smooth until we ran into a bad storm off Cape Hatteras. The Air Corp was to guard the doors and not let anyone in or out. The waves were breaking over the bow of the ship Ė the Republic was a big ship. I stood at the door until I was so seasick I could hardly stand up. I thought if I could get some air I would be OK. I opened the door and went out on deck and grabbed the wheel of a 155 mm gun and hung on for dear life. A lieutenant saw me out there and came out and grabbed me and practically threw me through the door. He said I was to guard the door and if I left it I would be court marshaled. I stayed there until I was so sick I didnít care whether they court marshaled me or not.

A fellow I knew at Fort Slocum told me to go down and lay down and he would watch the door. I did and as long as I lay down I felt fine but just as soon as I put one foot on the deck I was sick .I stayed in bed until we began to enter the Panama Canal.

They had promised we could get off the boat at each end of the canal but for some reason they didnít.

We went through the canal and headed for San Francisco. We had picked up fresh water in Panama but for somehow it was contaminated and most everybody got dysentery and was that a mess. Several men died and were buried at sea. Since most were sick they decided not to go to San Francisco but head directly to Hawaii. The water in the Pacific was smooth so I had no problems and we arrived in Honolulu in early March.

We came off the ship and were put in trucks and taken to a small train which took us to Wheeler Field in central Oahu.

"Pipe" Fuss, Jim Adelsberger and Jack Stoner who were already in Hawaii came down to the ship to see me but since we had been sick we were put in quarantine and they were not allowed to come near us. They later came to Wheeler Field and we had quite a chat about Emmitsburg and Hawaii.

After the quarantine we resumed basic training and were doing odd jobs around the base. Soon we were allowed to have a pass from the base so we went into Honolulu or any place we wanted on the island.

One time while at Waikiki Beach I got a bad sunburn. At that time it was a court marshal offence to get burnt. I didnít want to turn into the hospital for this reason. We were digging a ditch from Wheeler to Schofield Barracks (for an electric line) which would have been hard on my sunburn but as luck would have it I had a sergeant over me that allowed me to take it easy for several days while the sunburn healed.

About this time they were forming new fighter groups. We had P-36ís and the newer P-40 was arriving quite frequently. I was assigned to the 72nd fighter squadron and in September í41 was sent to Hickam Field to attend Aircraft and Engine School. (a 3 month course) everything at school went nice but at the end of November we were taken out of school and put on ground defense.

We were issued rifles and pistols and were on guard at different places around the base. Then (they) moved us from the new barracks to a tent area just across from the Post Exchange.

On the night of December 6th (1941) I was on guard duty at the water tower of Hickam from 12 midnight until 6 in the morning of December 7th. While walking in from the water tower I saw a float plane fly across very high. It might have been a Japanese observation plane. I just thought it was our Navy plane and forgot about it.

I decided to go over to the barracks, eat breakfast and take a shower. I was getting dressed when there was several explosions and thought it was the Navy dive bombing off Pearl Harbor. I raised a window blind and saw a plane drop a bomb into the Hawaiian Air Force Depot Hanger so I knew it wasnít the Navy. I finished dressing and was going to try to get back to the tent area.

When going down the steps a Sergeant yelled "Everybody out on the parade ground". I looked at the parade ground which had quite a few soldiers on them. As a Jap plane came across strafing I decided this was not the place to be and I stayed close to the buildings and worked my way over to the Post Exchange.

By this time the Jap planes were bombing Pearl Harbor and then flying across Hickam Field strafing. Soon after this they bombed Hickam Field and from what I understand different places in Hawaii.

At the Post Exchange we stood behind concrete pillars and watched the planes fly over. We could see the big red ball painted on their plane but none of us there knew what nation they came from. One, when he saw the red thought they were from Russia. Soon they started to strafe this area so we ran over to the tent area and got our guns. A rumor went around that the Japs were landing on the beach across from Hickam so they loaded us on trucks along with some machine guns and took us over to the beach side of Hickam. They set up the machine guns where we could cover the beach and left us there with very little ammunition. From this vantage point we could see the bombing and burning of Pearl Harbor along with Hickam Field. Some planes ( B-18ís and B-12ís ) tried to take off and were shot up by our own people. Everything was very confusing. Some B-17ís that were coming in from the states tried to land Ė some made it - some didnít. The Japanese hit us very hard for a couple of hours.

Around noon the officers came around and asked us to go over to where the buildings and planes were and see if we could help. We were to see if we could find anyone injured and take them to the hospital. The hospital was already filled with some waiting outside. I helped several to the hospital and found a leg and part of an arm and seen some things I couldnít identify. My hatred for the Japanese started at this time and has kept up until this very day. I will never forgive them. Had they declared war first I may have looked at this different.

We returned that evening to the places we had set up out on the beach. During the night we were awakened several times and asked our name, rank and serial number. With this and peoples shooting at anything that moved during the night we got very little sleep.

We spent a couple of days on the beach "digging in" and reinforcing our positions. On the 10th (of December) we were told to go to a place to be paid. When my turn came I was told they couldnít pay me as I was listed as dead. A couple of soldiers I knew told them I was George Baker so they paid me.

My parents were notified on the 10th of December I had been killed. They were not notified until December 24th I was alive even though we were told to write a letter home soon after the attack. Due to priorities the mail was very slow leaving Hawaii.

All the plaques and monuments listing my name as being dead wasnít cleared until 1995-1996.

Several days after this I was transferred back to Wheeler Field. I was in the 72nd Fighter Squadron where I went to Hickam to school. But since they had lost most of their planes they had little use for crew chiefs so I was assigned as crew chief on the Grup Commanders P36 Ė Colonel Steeleís. He was a West Point officer and very strict. I didnít like a Headquarters Group and wanted to get back to the 72nd Squadron but he wouldnít transfer me because they hadnít received many planes.

One time Colonel Steele came down to fly his plane and he couldnít get it started. I asked him to get out and I would try. It started the first time and took off. It was right after a rain and Wheeler was a grass strip at this time. When he landed I could see he was mad and he told me he rolled the plane over several times and a piece of dirt hit him in the face. If he had been in combat that could have caused him to be killed. I said "Colonel Ė look at your boots. They have mud on them from the rain". He said "Baker- How long have you been in the Army? You never have an excuse"

I decided then I wanted to return to the 72nd Squadron. So the next morning I was in his office asking for a transfer. He said no, I did this for about a week. The answer was always no. Finally he told me the only way he would transfer me was to be busted. By this time I had made Staff Sergeant and hated to lose it but I said "bust me" and he did. The next day I was transferred as a private.

I was glad to get back to the 72nd and was made crew chief on a P-40. We were allowed one promotion a month so in several months I was back to Staff Sargent.

From Wheeler Field we were moved to Barbers Point on the coast for several months. While there I tried to burn some gas soaked rags and got burned bad. I was in the hospital a couple of weeks.

From Barbers Point we were transferred to the golf course at Schofield Barracks. While here I happened to run into Colonel Steele. He told me that since the war started the requirements for aviation cadets had been lowered to high school from two years of college. I told him I didnít have a high school diploma, that I had lied and only had two years of high school. He said if I lied once I may as well do it again and put in for it. He got me some math books to brush up on which I did and had no trouble passing the exam.

I returned to the states as a Cadet in January 1943 and was stationed at Santa Anna, California where we were allowed to come home for a few days before our pre-preflight began. The academics and physical training was tough but I managed to make it. They wanted to make me a bomber pilot or a navigator or a bombardier but I said I wanted to be a fighter pilot or be sent back to my old squadron. They finally gave in so after pre-flight we were sent to Santa Maria for primary flight training. In primary we soloed in a PT- 17. It was one of the greatest thrills I have ever had being up there by yourself. The courses here were exciting as we did a lot of acrobatics. We were finally flying solo Ė something I never expected to do. It took 7.46 minutes for me to solo which was about normal for all the cadets.

One time in primary I almost washed out when I failed a check ride with an Air Corp officer. I took a check ride about a week later and had no trouble passing.

May, June and July of 1943 we spent in Primary Flight School. August and September we were in basic training in a BT- 13 at Lancaster, California. Everything went fairly smooth in basic except one time I used a radio in the plane to say something to another cadet which you shouldnít do as someone may want to use the radio in an emergency. I had to walk around a dry lake (10 miles) with a parachute as punishment. They were very strict to the cadets and punished you for the smallest infractions. The training was very good and I wouldnít change one rule. It did me a lot of good.

October and November we were in Advance Flying School at Chandler Arizona where we were flying twin engine training plane (the AT- 9). We also flew the AT- 6 and were checked out in the RP 322 (P- 38). This was a thrill as it had 2300 horsepower Ė the most powerful plane we flew in training.

Since we trained in the twin engine AT and the RP- 322 we had a feeling we would be assigned to a P-38 squadron which turned out to be true. In Advance things went smooth until I was ready to graduate and I didnít pass the eye exam. They told me to rest my eyes a couple of days and take another exam. I passed and graduated in the class of 43K, December 5th, 1943.

The latter part of December we were sent to Santa Rosa and trained in the P-39 which was a nice plane for low altitude. One time while trying to land, when the weather was real bad, I forgot to put my landing gear down and almost crashed. They called from the control tower to go around and put my wheels down this time. Although they chewed me out everything turned out OK. This was caused be a fog bank moving in from the Pacific Ocean.

In February we were sent to Paine Field in Evert, Washington where we flew the P39. This place was very lax on discipline. They left us do practically anything we wanted to do. I think it was to give us a good time before we went back overseas.

In April they sent us to Hamilton Field in San Francisco, California to wait to be assigned to a squadron overseas. We did very little here except wait, wait and wait.

The latter part of April we had to take a physical to be sent out in the next several days. I had a sore throat and they would not let me go until that cleared. I went back to the barracks, took the toothbrush handle and squeezed my tonsils until all of the infection was squeezed out and didnít look bad except they were very red. The next day I went back to the hospital and managed to pass the physical. So I was shipped out the next night with the fellows I graduated with in Flying School.

We flew from San Francisco to Hawaii, Hawaii to Canton Island, Canton Island to Nanumea Island, Nanumea Island to Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal to Port Moresby. We were in a C-54 and took a total flying time of 48:30 minutes.

In Port Moresby we flew P-38ís, waiting to be assigned to a fighter squadron in combat. This didnít take too long and five of us were sent to the 35th Fighter Squadron Ė 5th Air Force, 8th Fighter Group stationed at Wakde Island on the north side of New Guinea. The next day an island called Biak was invaded, which we covered, and as soon as the airstrip was taken and repaired we landed only a couple of hours after the invasion. When landing there the squadron commander overshot the field. I was flying his wing position so I went on in and landed. I didnít know he wanted to be the first to land so he chewed me out royally. This wasnít the exact way to get started in a new squadron but as it turned out he was killed a couple of days later so everything ran smoothly.

For some reason or another we had three squadron commanders killed in the next few days. Everybody was getting a little scared about becoming a squadron commander.

From our position in Biak we were able to escort bombers over the Netherland East Indies and Guam. The northern part of New Guinea Ė Borneo Ė Southern Philippines.

One mission we were escorting B-24ís to Ceram and after they dropped their bombs we got into a small fight with some Japanese fighter planes (Oscars). They didnít seem to want to fight too much although our squadron did shoot several down.

After the fight we started to strafe some ships in the harbor and the airfield. There were a lot of Japanese running around. Remembering how they strafed us at Hickam Field, December 7th, 1941, I had no problem strafing them. I think I remembered it too much because after some time strafing I looked up and my squadron had started home.

When the fight started I had trouble releasing my belly tank and in diving and pulling up hard I may have tore something loose when the belly tank released or I had received some bullets through my wings. One or the other caused me to loose gas and I didnít think I had enough to return to the base. I called the squadron commander and told him my situation. He sent a pilot back that was familiar with the area to lead me in to Noemfoor, an island the army had taken a few days before. The weather got real bad with heavy rain. When we got to some clouds I told the other pilot he could go on instruments and I would fly looking at his wing. Just as we entered the clouds he peeled off and left. I was in the clouds and was afraid if I turned I would hit him so I just left the plane descend gradually and I came out under the clouds. I was 200 feet above the water and I turned in to what I thought was the direction of my home airfield. After flying a few minutes I looked up and saw several B 24s through a hole in the clouds. I flew up beside them and tried to contact them on the radio but couldnít get any response. My gas at this time was getting very low. I knew I had to either bail out or go down with the plane. In the past couple weeks several pilots had bailed out and their chutes hadnít opened. I was a little leary of this. I came along the side of one of the B 24s and released my canopy hoping he would realize I was in trouble. They just waved back.

I looked down and saw several small islands. The islands over there all had a coral reef around them and I thought I might set the plane down on them since they only had ten to fifteen feet of water covering them.

I made my approach to land (of course with wheels up). I didnít allow for the increased drag the wheels would have so I came in to fast. One engine was out so I knew I couldnít go around and make another approach. I got the plane as close to the water as I could and yanked back on the wheel making the tail drag in the water. As the plane slowed down it sank in about twelve feet of water. I released my shoulder straps and seat belt, inflated my Mae West life jacket and and floated to the top.

It was raining very hard and beginning to get dark. The bank of the island was very steep and I had a lot of trouble making a hammock from my parachute. I finally got it done before dark and crawled into the hammock and tried to get some sleep. It rained continually all night so I slept very little.

We had a little boat in our jungle pack so I took it out the next morning, got in it and started to row around the island. After rounding one end of the island I saw a small native village. They spotted me about the same time and got into a dugout boat and came rowing toward me. I didnít know what to do so I rowed into the shore and stood there in the shallow water. I had a 45 caliber automatic but didnít know if it would work since it had been in the water. They rowed up to me (there were four in the boat). They had spears but didnít threaten me but motioned me to get in the boat up front. I motioned I wanted to get in the back so they left me sit there.

They started to take me around the island and I showed them where my airplane was under about 15 feet of water. The one native dived down and looked all around and finally came up and motioned for me to give him my knife. I gave it to him Ė he dove down and came back up with my relief tube (which we used to urinate through while we were flying). He put it up to his mouth like it was a horn and blew through it. He must have seen someone playing a horn.

They started to row again and then the native in front stood up and threw a spear, hitting a fish which was forty to fifty feet in front of the boat. They were very accurate. I doubt if my 45 would have been much good. We came to a couple more small islands. The oldest native was sitting in front of me. He turned around and offered me a piece of fruit. I shook my head "no" and he must have thought I thought it wasnít good so he took a bite out of it. When he did the red juice ran down his chin and looked like blood. I still didnít take the fruit.

They rowed all morning and came to a large island with a very large village. A lot of natives came out and about that time a PBY ( Patrol Bomber) flew over and I waved a piece of parachute at him and he landed. When getting in the PBY a native (who looked like a Chinaman) handed me a note that had something about the 19th Bomb Group. The PBY flew me back to Biak and a small plane took me back over to Owi where we were stationed. I gave this note to the Intelligence Officer and he arranged for me to go out on a PT boat to see if we could find this Chinese fellow.

The PT boat went along the New Guinea coast and shot up a few barges during the night and the next morning came back to the place the PBY picked me up but the Chinese fellow didnít show up so they returned me to Owi. While on the PT boat they served me a couple of meals which was the best food I had eaten in a long while. The steaks and vegetables were fresh and so were the eggs.

The rest of the time in combat was spent dive bombing, strafing and escorting bombers to their target and return and escorting transports. Very little combat with enemy planes. I think in the 94 missions I flew we only contacted enemy planes ten or twelve times.

It is hard to remember things after 60 years.

One night on Morotai we were sleeping. They (the Japanese) had just taken the island and we could hear shooting in the distance. It seems like a bunch of Japs had got through our lines and went running through our tent area, yelling as loud as they could and shooting in the tents. They were all killed after a short distance. They did kill a couple of our enlisted men and officers.

When we landed in Mindoro there were no casualties except one infantry man was gouged by a water buffalo. Soon after the landing we were refueling our planes when a Jap plane came diving down into an ammunition ship that was about a mile off shore. I was putting fuel in the wing tanks when the ship exploded knocking me off the plane.

Going down to Australia was exciting. They left you go down about once every six months for ten days. Going down we flew through storms and any kind of weather. Coming back we wouldnít take off if there was a cloud in the sky. Usually we ended up with thirteen to fourteen days leave. When we returned I brought enough Canadian bacon to feed the squadron. Each person only got a small piece.

While at Mindoro we did a lot of dive bombing, strafing, escorting bombers and covering landings in different parts of the Philippines. We had several fighters sweep to Formosa (Taiwan). We also escorted bombers to China and Saigon.

We covered the landing at Leyte in the Philippines. Soon after this they took our planes and gave them to another squadron. (We were down to four or five) We had to wait about five days for new planes to arrive. When the new planes arrived we covered the landing at Mindoro and went in and landed. Before they arrived they checked us out in P-51ís as that seemed to be the plane that would take the P-38ís place. I only flew it one time and the sergeant said I had too much time overseas and I would have to return to the states.

The men returning to the states were sent back from Mindoro to Leyte. My name came up a few days later to take a boat back. After being seasick on the way to Hawaii when I enlisted I sure didnít want return by boat. I made out I was sick and went into the hospital the day the ship left. A couple of days later my name came up on a flight home and I flew back on a C-54.

Read Harry Jones' - another Mount Flight School Graduate: ĎWar really is hell'

Have your own memories of the Emmitsburg during World war II?  
If so, send them to us at: history@emmitsburg.net