Overdue Honors - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

7/10/04-East Texas

Overdue Honors

Overton resident Bill Baker was just a teenager when World War II broke out. Like thousands of others, Bill served his country by joining the Navy. As a radio-man he served aboard the USS Cleveland for two years participating in nine major conflicts. It's been 58 years since he last served his country but he's finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Baker enjoys his life. He's the pastor of a church in Overton and runs an antique store with his wife of 58 years, Melba. On most days he's happy just working on a few watches. But it's not hard to get him to recall the time he spent fighting in the war.

"I boarded the USS Cleveland in '44 in the Florida Islands and we covered a lot of work... Guadalcanal... broke my tooth trying to eat a coconut.. and from there just one thing after another."

Bill's journey took him all over the South Pacific, fighting numerous battles off the coast of Japan, his ship even helping in the Philippine Liberation effort. For two years he had a front row seat to history.

"I was up in the communication division and there was a GQ or general quarters and I didn't get out much but I could hear the planes and I could hear the firing," he said "Most the time if we were just bombarding I would be out watching."

While Bill took part in nine major conflicts, when his duty came to an end, he says medals were the last thing on his mind.

"I took the train down to Virginia Beach and I got my orders for discharge, in fact I didn't even go back to get my bag, I just left my old blue jeans and my pretty white hat, I just took my handbag and took off to Galveston, Texas."

Now, 58 years later, an idea, a few phone calls and with the help of congressman Ralph Hall, Bill finally has the recognition he deserves. Even if it's hard to accept.

"I don't have an ego problem, I'm just Bill Baker. There are things you have to do and you just do them. The good lord has blessed me, most things I want to do I do."

Even with the medals, the only thing changed about this former navy man, is his uniform.

Baker was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946. He continued to work in communications after the war. The honors aren't done coming in just yet, he's still due one more ribbon which he hopes to get by the end of the year.

Chris Gibson, reporting

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