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Final duty station for a local World War II Navy man

By By Commander Dennis Baker, U.S. Navy (retired)
May 17, 2012

COCHECTON, NY — It all began in June 2010. I was downsizing my life to travel. De-cluttering unnecessary stuff was a pretty simple task for a military man who was experienced at traveling light for 28 years. But there remained one piece in my life that needed tending to in a more dignified manner. I had been given my father, Owen Baker’s, WWII Navy “Cracker Jack” uniform complete with hat and medals. He wanted me, a Navy man who followed in his footsteps, to cherish this sacred piece of his life. So, for the first 40 years this uniform was kept in his cruise box, hidden away in a dark closet until he passed it to me. As he opened the box, out came the uniform and the many stories that went with it. For the next 25 years it would hang in my military room to eventually become a prisoner in yet another dark hole after my retirement.

The big question to me was where these personal, prized possessions should go. I will die someday, and this old uniform could become just another article in a thrift store. Along with this uniform were images of a young, spirited 22-year-old Seaman 1st Class Owen Baker. I believe one photo depicts him while on liberty in the South Pacific. The character of this glossy-eyed sailor in all his grandeur was carried in his soul over many years and spent on his children and grandchildren until his passing in 2002.

Sometimes we are presented with mementos by those before us. Deep inside, they hope that we carry on their stories to provide their connection to a future life that they will never know. You can almost hear their plea of “please don’t forget me!” What to do with his gifts became my responsibility.

I guess he knew that I was driven most of my life to do the right thing. It’s a learned behavior in the military. With his stories and treasures in hand, I set out to find a place that would please him. Along with the uniform and glamour shots was a painting of the ship he was assigned to, the U.S.S. Sitka, a troop transport ship during WWII named after Sitka, AK. Owen was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Sitka in 1945 and 1946. Just on a hope and a prayer I picked up my iPhone and looked up Museum, Sitka, Alaska.

I was wowed by the events of the next few minutes. The phone call took only two minutes to complete; however, so much was accomplished.

The phone was answered by a young lady at the museum. I proceeded to tell her that I had this WWII Navy uniform. She interrupted me to say, “Believe it or not, we were standing here talking about how we could find a Navy uniform from WWII.” Without hesitation or mental reservation, I said, “It’s as good as in the mail.”