Christmas Valley resident William Baker was recently honored on his 100th birthday, as he received best wishes and thanks for his service on behalf of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Oregon County Veterans Service Officers Association, Director of the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs and the Office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.
Baker served in both World War II and in Korea. He was a flight engineer on B25 bombers in World War II and on B29 bombers in Korea. He earned several medals for his service and was awarded the Purple Heart, as he suffered injuries during his time in Korea.
When World War II began, and when he signed up, Baker was part of a squadron that was sent to England to prepare for the D-Day invasion. His squadron flew missions right before the invasion and Baker described that the sorties were adventurous as the planes were taking quite a bit of fire from the Germans.
One mission involved flying planes that put out smoke, allowing paratroopers to jump out of the planes as they were hidden by the smoke.
He was shot down over the Black Forest in Germany, and spent many days there until he was able to meet up with American forces.
Baker got his start with airplanes when he was young and working for a small air freight outfit in Midland, Texas, called Little George MacIntosh. Baker initially was hired to help tie down freight on the airplanes. On a whim, he was asked to fly on a route and make a run. After that experience he was hooked on flying and started to learn to become a pilot, which led to him becoming a flight engineer on the bombers during the two wars.
As a flight engineer on the B25 and B29 bombers it was his job to monitor and operate the aircraft systems, as this was transferred from the role of the two pilots that were on board the plane. Flight engineers monitor the engines and other critical flight systems to make sure they are in working order.
In between World War II and Korea, Baker did a number of jobs around the country, most of them working as a contractor for the government on many of its projects relating to aircraft and the development of supersonic aircraft.
When the Korean War began he was not fully discharged from the military, and was in the reserve unit. He had the same role as he had over Europe. He flew 14 successful missions when his plane was hit by a rocket from a MiG aircraft. According to Baker, it hit the airplane while the turrets were still firing and destroyed an engine. The plane went down, and he and his surviving crew were stuck in Korea for several days nursing injuries until they came upon a patrol of United States Marines.
After serving in both wars Baker held many jobs, including with Bell Aircraft when it was working on the X-1 and X-2. He worked for the Goodyear Company in Arizona, when he was working with the X-2 taking photographs of the coast, as he said it was able to get better resolution photographs of the coast than other parts of the country.
For the past 13 years Baker and his friend Ann Baker, have lived in Christmas Valley on 160 acres. Previously Baker was living on a ranch in New Mexico.
“I wanted a place that was nice and quiet and away from people,” said Baker.
He was surprised when Charles Pike, Lake County Veteran Services officer, came to surprise him on his 100th birthday with accolades and congratulations. Pike presented a shadowbox of the different awards and notes to Baker.
“I felt a little surprised and appreciated by all the notoriety,” said Baker.
He plans to take part in the honor flight of veterans in Washington, D.C., in May 2021.