He was a kid, just 18, and drafted out of Jefferson High School (Jefferson Township, south of Dayton) in March of his senior year, 1944. As he and several other boys began their junior year, they were warned by their school principal that they would probably be drafted before they could graduate. He began to take double course loads, and when he was drafted, he lacked one high school unit. The school gave him the unit, and his father received his diploma for him. He jokingly remarks, “My father was the only eighth-grade graduate to get a high school diploma at that school.”
At the induction office, he volunteered to be a Marine and was shipped to Parris Island to get his training as a machine gunner. From there it was to Camp Pendleton in California and then on to Pearl Harbor as the U.S. military prepared for the invasion of Japan.
At Pearl Harbor, he says, “Much of the destruction by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941, was no longer evident, and the attitude was positive there, at least as positive as attitudes can be in wartime.”
And then in October of 1944 he, Charles Ellsworth Baker, U.S. Marine, 5th Division, F Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment, was off to Iwo Jima as part of “Operation Detachment” to take the volcanic island from the Japanese who hoped to wreak such havoc on the Americans that they would reconsider invading Japan’s home islands. It was a bloody five-week battle with huge casualties, but victory came at last, symbolized by the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. He was standing 50 feet away from that famous scene as it was photographed and “felt very proud.”
Any victory comes at a great cost. Baker indicates that 257 men were in F Company and when “Operation Detachment” was over, “only 27 of us were left.” A young man he grew up with, Lloyd Cunnington, was killed at the first landing of the company. Baker survived, “never got a scratch, but had lots of close calls” and says that he handled the death of so many with whom he fought with “my will to survive” and “putting my trust in the Lord.”
After Iwo Jima, he wrote a letter to his father and his sister, Ruth Louise (his mother died when Baker was 6 years old), dated March 28, 1945: “No one could go through that hell and come out safely without God’s help. I have God to thank for everything, and I will always be grateful.”
Many photos were made the day of the flag-raising, and Baker is featured in a larger group available online. (His sons crafted him a plywood silhouette, 8 feet high and 7 feet wide, of the famous photo of men from E Company and he displays it in his front yard).
Then Japan was bombed: Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and three days later, Nagasaki.
Baker says, “I’m here today because of the atomic bomb.” To those who think President Truman erred in authorizing the bombing, Baker says, “Thousands of American and Japanese lives were saved. “ He was in Nagasaki six weeks after the bomb was dropped, and his detachment was told to stay in the trucks and keep their shoes off the ground because of the contamination.
Of Nagasaki, he says, “Everything was flat. Water was running in the streets from ruptured water lines. Burned corpses of men, women and children littered the streets. The Japanese who returned to the city had been told that Americans would torture them. We gave them food and clothing, and they soon learned they had been lied to. We put Japan’s military weapons on barges and dumped them in the ocean.”
Baker left the Marines as a corporal in June of 1946. It took him two weeks to get home: by plane from Pearl Harbor to San Diego; by ship through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, Virginia; by train to the Great Lakes Naval Base (he wanted to jump from the train when it went through Dayton); and by car to come home to Dayton.
He married his high school sweetheart, Lois Marie Futcher, and they had one daughter and two sons. He went to work for Standard Register and retired as a foreman from there after 40 years. Now at age 90, he maintains his home (his wife passed in 2014); grows sweet corn, green beans and tomatoes; goes to the Veterans Administration lunches in Dayton about once a month; and has a workshop where he creates toys for his grandchildren.
He wants today’s young people to “have a sense of history. It’s important for them to know of the sacrifices so many made to give them the freedom they enjoy today.”
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.