SAMUEL E. (SAM) BAKER
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Air Force, WWII, Europe
Samuel Baker entered military
service before WWII and served 35 years continuous active duty before his
retirement in 1974.
only wounded once, as a glider pilot in the D-Day invasion of
he was always a bit unconventional and something of a risk taker, especially
in his younger days.
Fortunately though, he was
always lucky enough to walk away from some of his less than successful
The early part of his story is
told in his own words, starting here.
all started in September 1921 when I was born in the Sacramento
I went to
and graduated from the North
Sacramento in 1934.
Being somewhat eager to please
the teachers, I graduated as class Salutatorian.
in Del Paso Heights.
In my senior year, I was
elected class president, but due to my poor attendance record was asked to
resign. This was a rude awakening and one I sorely needed at the time. It
gave me the incentive to get back to work and accumulate enough credits to
graduate (Sam graduated in
December 1937 as a 16 year-old).
The depression was still
gripping the country at that time and jobs were hard to find.
The representative of the Land
Company that held the mortgage on our home would make his monthly call for
payment and my dad would say there was no money and they might as well
As the Land Company needed no
more foreclosed properties on their books, that ended it for another month.
during the summers as a lifeguard at the Woodlake swimming pool in North
Sacramento or in the logging camps of Northern California.
When one envisions a logger
they usually picture the Paul Bunyan type bringing down majestic trees.
Sixteen year-old kids who went
into logging in that era were the ones that cleared all the Manzanita and
other brush from around the trees so the real loggers could do their work.
I personally never felled a
tree, but I did decimate a lot of brush.
This was beneficial to me in
one way, it made me realize this was not the way I planned to make a career.
part time job that I had during the summers was as a flunky in the box
where my father worked. As summer ended and still with no worthwhile
employment in sight, two of my best friends, Raymond Robertson and Orlin
Flores mentioned joining the service.
about the time Hitler had marched into
I met a fast talking
Recruiting Officer who had been in the Army for 24 years, and he was making
$54 per month.
to me of 70 cents a day, which equated to $21 per month, or $252 per year,
was in addition to room and board, and a promise of travel away from
In fact, the recruiter said that in all probability my first station would
be Hickam Field on the island
Fortunately, this did not come to pass.
fortunately, because later events made the area around Pearl Harbor
an unhealthy atmosphere shortly thereafter
(Sam enlisted and was inducted September 30,
I was first sent to
near the Federal Penitentiary on
brings back memories of an interesting experience I had concerning that
particular piece of real estate.
liberty boat from
stopped at Alcatraz on the return trip from San Francisco.
been to San Francisco
before, I thought it might be worthwhile to kill a day by going again.
return trip, on a dark and rainy night, I stepped off the boat when it made
the stop at
I found myself in the hands of
several burly gentlemen with Tommy guns and a definitely unfriendly manner
who told me what would happen to me if I ever set foot on “The Rock” again.
Anyway, instead of the
assignment, I was ordered to Chanute Army Air Field at Rantoul,
Illinois, to enroll in the
technical school and become an airplane mechanic.
At least I would be learning a trade.
After progressing through the various systems such
as hydraulics, props, engines, instrument, and all the other systems, I was
assigned to aircraft instrument repair and promoted to Corporal.
Shortly thereafter I was promoted again, this time
After a series of tests, which I somehow passed with high
grades, I was promoted to first class airplane mechanic with the pay of
Seventy-two bucks a month !
Shortly after this I was transferred to Keesler Army
Air Field in
and became an instructor in aircraft instruments.
Harbor happened, I became somewhat eager to get
into the fray and volunteered for glider training.
Little did I know, I received a summons to report to
the medics for a physical.
Upon completion of the physical, I noted it had been
I thought that meant that I was a healthy specimen.
IA meant “Immediate Action.”
I was off the base in two hours, destination
for beginning training as a glider pilot by doing dead-stick landings in
Sam completed Basic Glider Training and then was schooled in Cargo
Gliders were new to the U.S. Air Forces and throughout his
training a great deal of experimentation and innovation was going on at all
Sam was ready and willing to try anything and he crashed more
than his share of times while gaining experience. Upon graduation from the
CG-4A “Waco” Glider course,
he received his glider pilot wings and his appointment as a Flight Officer.
He was then shipped overseas to England.
Glider pilot, FO
Baker was assigned to the 93rd Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier
Group, 50th Troop Carrier Wing, IX Troop Carrier Command, Ninth Air Force at
The troop carriers supported the training of the
Airborne forces and prepared for their part in the invasion of Europe.
Sam did some cross-training in piloting the “Horsa”
glider, a British glider larger than the American’s, and capable of carrying
heavier loads and larger equipment than the “Waco.”
The 439th Troop
Carrier Group dropped elements of the 101st Airborne Division by parachute
during the night before the Landing Force hit the beaches on D-Day, June 6,
Then, the troop carriers returned inserting reinforcements
for the paratroopers by glider, and Sam Baker was part of that.
His commander had designated Sam to pilot one of the
It was loaded with 30 troops plus some heavy equipment.
After the flight to Normandy, his C-47
plane was off course and it released the tow without having reached the
designated Landing Zone.
Sam’s glider was shot down by German ground fire and
broken up in the crash, killing 15 of the 30 troops.
Pilot and co-pilot were thrown forward through the
front of the glider, and into dense vegetation.
Initially, troops recovering the bodies and clearing
the wreckage did not find Flight Officer Baker who was nearby, but apart
from the crash and lying unconscious and concealed from view in the brush.
Later, realizing the pilot was unaccounted for, they
made a more thorough search of the area and found him (the co-pilot was also
grievously wounded and died years later in a VA Hospital in
Syracuse, NY, never having
in-and-out of consciousness for an extended time afterward.
Much later he recovered some fragmented memories of
having been taken to the
Normandy beach area and
while lying among rows of other casualties awaiting evacuation, of being hit
by German mortar fire and scrambling to find cover.
After it was over, he realized he had taken shelter
in stacks of ammunition boxes.
On the ship taking casualties back across the
channel to England,
they were being fed steak.
Sam had head injuries and couldn’t chew anything.
He remembers trading his steak to another man for
his bread, which was easy for him to eat without pain.
Back in England,
he was initially comatose for much of the time.
He was in a
because, having been recovered from the wreckage of a Horsa glider, he was
believed to have been a British commissioned officer aviator.
Accordingly, he received accommodations and
treatment substantially better than American flyers were accustomed to.
For a couple of months he was “out of it” most of
Eventually, he recovered sufficiently that the hospital
understood the mistake.
Just as they were about to downgrade his patient
status, Sam located where his flight suit had been stowed, retrieved it, got
dressed, slipped out of the hospital, did some hitchhiking and found his way
back to his base at Upottery.
When he walked
into the mess hall, his Squadron Commander dropped his cup of coffee.
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
The British hadn’t known, so they hadn’t reported
that Sam was an American in their care, therefore his unit had listed him as
missing and presumed dead.
He was put back in the hospital for a couple of
weeks, and even after that, Sam wasn’t considered to be “quite right.”
One of Sam’s friends was pilot of a C-47 and with
Operation Market Garden coming up Sam tried to sign on to fly the mission as
co-pilot. The commander found out about it and stopped him.
His friend’s plane was shot down and his friend was
1944, the 439th Group moved across the channel to France,
first at Juvincourt, and then moved again on November 4th to Chateaudun
where they remained until after the war was over.
Battle of the Bulge, gliders from
Sam’s 93rd Troop Carrier Squadron were used to take in supplies to the 101st
Airborne Division at Bastogne
and some of them were lost.
Sam still has a photo of one of his friends in a
that went down in enemy territory and was held POW for the remainder of the
They also participated in the last major Airborne operation of the
war, the insertion of the 17th Airborne Division across the Rhine near
But, after being shot down over Normandy
on D-Day, Sam was never again wounded.
However, that is not to say his flying was without
Sam says that if the Germans had only known him at the time,
the Luftwaffe would have made him an Ace, because he had destroyed more than
enough of their enemy’s aircraft to qualify.
Postwar, Warrant Officer Baker was sent to an assignment at Atkinson
Field in British Guyana in 1945 as a Maintenance Officer.
Subsequent to that he had an assignment on
In 1950 he went
to B-29 school, received a commission and became a Flight Engineer.
He later transitioned to B-36’s, also as Flight
On one of the training missions that he flew from Carswell
Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Sam’s
B-36 bomber crashed and he was the last crew member to parachute out before
the plane went down.
He says he landed on a cow out in some North Texas pasture.
In 1958, he was a
B-52 Navigator stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin,
Still at Bergstrom in 1965, he had been promoted to
Lieutenant Colonel and was in command of an Air-to-Ground Missile Squadron,
when he met and married Darline Pelham, an Air Force Nurse assigned at the
In 1967, Sam was
sent to Vietnam
as a squadron commander at the air base at Tuy Hoa.
About the time he was due to return home, Darline
also received orders to
So, Sam extended for another year.
He took a Logistics Officer job at Tan Son Nhut Air
Base and they were together in Saigon
for a year.
In 1969, Sam
returned to the U.S.
to become the Air-to-Ground Missile Squadron Commander at Grand Forks Air
Force Base, North Dakota.
Lieutenant Colonel Baker retired from there in 1974
and then was free to be the “house husband” and follow Darline for the
remainder of her career.
After her assignments to
Goose Bay, Laborador, and
New York, in 1982
Darline retired from Keesler Air Force Base,
Biloxi, Mississippi, also in
the grade of Lieutenant Colonel.
retirement, they continued living in their home in Ocean Springs, near
Biloxi, until 2006.
Hurricane Katrina did some damage to their property,
but otherwise massively wiped out much of that whole area, whereupon they
moved to Central Texas to be near a son and a daughter of Sam that were
living in the area.
Sam transferred his membership in the Military
Order of the Purple Heart from Chapter 682 in
to Chapter 1919 here. At the time of this writing, Sam is enjoying life in
the “Wesleyean at Scenic” in
Georgetown (2001 Scenic Drive
in Georgetown) where his
children and Darline are often around.
But, he is greatly appreciative of other visitors as
well, and Patriots and Auxiliaries are always welcome to drop by and