Killed by roadside bomb
Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.
I mentioned in a prior article it is not just the veteran in a war when he or she is deployed. It is the whole family. The family fights every day hoping that their loved ones are okay in a distant land. I came across this write-up at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Museum and thought I would share it with all of you.
Some things Sgt. Baker never forgot. He never forgot to tell his fiancée that he loved her more than anything on earth, “including outer space,” and he never forgot to call home on Mother’s Day. So, when the call didn’t come May 13, his mother, Patricia Baker, became nervous.
The news out of Iraq heightened her anxiety. Three U.S. soldiers were missing after a deadly ambush and were assumed to have been abducted. Her son was in the same area, known as the “Triangle of Death, southwest of Baghdad. “I thought he was captured,” she said. “I kind of breathed a sigh of relief when they announced the unit wasn’t his.” The relief didn’t last long. Her son couldn’t call because he was on a mission to find those missing soldiers.
On May 17, while Baker was leading a foot patrol near Rushdi Mullah, a buried improvised explosive went off, killing the 23-year-old, according to the Defense Department. The body of one of the missing soldiers, Army PFC Harold Pierce, 20, of Torrance, was recovered from a canal May 23.
Baker from Los Angeles California, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. His death came on is third tour in Iraq. Baker has done his four years in the Army but was given a “stop-loss” order that allows the military to extend deployments in times of war.
“When he came back from the first tour, he told me that we take for granted what we have here,” his mother said. “On his second tour, he had a number of close calls. His third tour, he knew the reality of it. He had a bad feeling about it. I felt he thought something was going to happen,” she said. “When I saw him at the airport, he had a look, and he was scared to death.”
As a boy, Baker seemed destined for the military life. He idolized his grandfather, a career Marine, and he would draw detailed scenes of men in combat.
After the September 11 attacks, there was no doubt what he would do.
After graduating from high school in 2002, he enlisted. “He did what he believed in,” his mother said. “At the time, I thought joining the Army would be a good idea. It would build character and help turn him into a man. I grew up in a military family.” But Bakers time in Iraq wore on him.
When he returned home, he would sidestep questions about the war, preferring to change the subject.
“I tried to talk to him and finally stopped,” said his stepfather. “Baker was a man of great character and just a solid Individual. He was very respectful. He wasn’t a complainer. Baker didn’t talk about the war in a broader sense.
“There are a lot of guys who are gung-ho and psyched about being there, and he wasn’t one of those guys.”
Baker gave a promise ring to his high school sweetheart, Pearl, 23, and was saving money for a house after they were married.
“I thought it would be crazy for enlisting, but he kept telling me It was just for four years out of his life,” Pearl said. “We always knew something like this was a possibility. Every time we talked; we told each other how much we loved each other because we never knew when it would be the last time.
“He would say, “I love you more than anything in this world, including outer space. He would whisper that so the other guys wouldn’t hear it. The week before he died, Baker told her that three mortar rounds had struck near his position along the Euphrates River.
Baker planned on going to college when he returned. He just wasn’t sure what to study. Sometimes it would be criminal law, other times he wanted to attend the fire academy. “He just longed to be back home with his family,” his mother said.
Before they got official news of his death, the family knew something was wrong. A friend called, saying two uniformed soldiers had appeared outside their former home. The military did not have the proper address of the Bakers. After the confusion was sorted out, the family had to wait an hour until the soldiers arrived, fearing the news they could bring.
“We still needed to hear it from their mouths,” his mother said. “We still hoped it was just a bad injury, but Baker paid the ultimate sacrifice.” Since then, the family had received messages from soldiers praising Baker as a leader and a friend.
His former Lieutenant wrote that he was someone who could always be counted on in a tough spot. He said that Baker talked about his family daily, discussed wedding plans and patiently endure his fellow soldiers’ good-nature ribbing.
“I want you to know that every one of us on the ground that day did everything possible to save Baker,” he wrote. “I don’t know what to do without him. I sit here and stare at his bunk and sob into my hands. It will never be the same without him.”
Baker will be buried next to his father. “His father’s death was something that Baker never got over,” his mother said. “When my husband died, we didn’t skip a beat. It was close to Christmas, and we went out and purchased a tree. You can’t stop living. I have 6-year-old twin boys right now. As much as I want to grieve, I need to be there for them.”
Baker did die knowing he was loved by many,” she said.
We never know when it is our time. I attempt to live like each day is my last and make the most of it.
Email me at AboutVets@yahoo.com.
• • •
— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,
1st Cav/9th Infantry