In 1953 when Roy Baker of Troy, Ohio, was an education major at Union College in Kentucky, he wasn’t as concerned about avoiding the draft as he might have been. His grades were six-tenths of one percent below the cut off, so there was no student deferment for him.
His attitude, however, of being drafted as the Korean War was coming to a close caused no alarm: “I was ready to go, didn’t fuss with ‘em, packed my bags and took off to Fort Knox.”
His elementary school and high school years had been spent at the Oneida Baptist Institute, so during basic training Baker reports, “I heard words I’d never heard before — from the drill sergeant . He was demanding, goaded us, but it was worth it.
“I was smart enough not to volunteer to be a truck driver because they end up pushing a wheelbarrow, but I did volunteer for office work ‘cause I’d had typing in high school and college. I was a pretty good typist.”
After eight weeks at Fort Knox, Baker was shipped to Furth, Germany, as a member of Company K, 39th Infantry Regiment. Korea had signed the truce 30 days before he left for Germany. His unit, however, was on alert, standing ready to hold back the Russians if in their greed for more of Germany after World War II, they had their sights set on West Germany. In terms of the particulars of that possible conflict, Baker says, “It wasn’t into my thinking. That was above my pay grade. I just knew we had to hold the line. We went on maneuvers every day where we played like we were going to war — and we were ready to go if we were needed.”
Baker had never been to Western Europe before and with his conservative background, he was “shocked at seeing African American men with white German girls.” He loved the landscape, at least as much as he was able to see from the back of a tandem truck, but he used the extensive German rail system to travel to winter resort places when he was on leave. And he learned enough German to get by: To order food, to greet Germans and to get to places he needed to get to.
A plus in his military service was a relationship with an avid tennis player, the manager of the NCO club at Furth, who watched him playing basketball on the company team and determined that he was a natural athlete. He felt Baker needed to add tennis to his array of athletic skills, so he took him to his home and, as Baker says, “treated me like his son.”
Of the Korean War, Baker says, “South Korea came back stronger than it was. I try not to think about North Korea. It’s a threat, ready to pop open. I can’t predict, but Kim Jong-un presents tremendous danger. He’s going to let something off and start World War III. Russia and China are pulling the strings on North Korea, and I say let the two of them settle it. If we do get in a war, we ought not to do it piecemeal. We need to stay in until we get it finished.”
When Baker returned to Fort Knox after his deployment to Germany, his time was up in the regular Army and he served for six years in the Army Reserves. He headed off to Eastern Kentucky University to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees. One year he lived in the same dorm at Eastern as did his father, Preston Baker, a teacher and principal in Clay County, Kentucky, for 50 years. Father and son graduated together in 1961: Preston with his B. S. and Don with his M.A.
Baker’s first teaching job was in Clay County, Kentucky, “Up a holler at a two-room school called Bright Shade. I taught a total of 25 students in grades five, six, seven and eight.” His pay for the year was $2,600, so when Tipp City School District was searching for teachers at EKU, Baker readily accepted the offer of $4,050.
Baker worked for 11 years in Tipp City as a teacher and principal, enjoying each of the 800 students and working well with the faculty. Until his last two years as principal when he had a secretary, he had no support staff in the school except students who would come in by the hour and help with some of the paperwork.
So he went into business for himself.
This is one more story about a period in American military history, the Korean War era. Edison State Community College will recognize Baker and other men from the era as well as their spouses and widows on Nov. 10 at noon at the college in Piqua. Dr. Vivian Blevins is coordinating the program and encourages those who know veterans from the era to contact her so that she can send them information and invitations and let them know that we have not forgotten this period in American history ([email protected] or 778-3815).
Contact Vivian Blevins at [email protected]