(RET.) Major Frank Baker, 89, of North Little Rock passed away Tuesday, January 28, 2020. He was born November 23, 1930 in Henry, South Dakota to Jobie and Alice (Dykstra) Baker. He was the middle child with two older sisters and two younger brothers. Frank’s father passed away in 1935 when he was four years old and left his widowed mother with 5 children ages 13 months to 7 years old.
The 1930s was an extraordinarily difficult time in history. They lived on a rented farm in Henry, SD until the family lost the farm, as did so many other families, to drought, grasshoppers and the great depression. The family moved to Sanborn, Iowa where Frank graduated high school in 1948.
After graduation Frank went to work for the Sanborn Iowa Municipal Light Plant for two years. He also worked in the evenings for a dry cleaning shop tending the boiler and learning how to press clothes. The owner was a pilot and veteran of WWII. They talked a lot about airplanes. Before the draft board came, Frank went to the local Air Force recruiter and enlisted on Friday the 13th of July, 1951. He was training as a turret systems mechanic with an Armament and Electronics Maintenance Squadron outside Spokane, Washington when he met Marilyn Charlson. They were married on Friday the 13th of March, 1953.
Soon after, Frank became a tail gunner on the B-36 and was assigned to the 347th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 111th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. He and Marilyn two sons born in Washington. In 1956, he went to Castle AFB in California where he trained as a B-52 tail gunner. It was there he was challenged by a few 2nd Lieutenants to go down to Division Headquarters and take the Air Force Officers Qualifying Test. He accepted the challenge and did very well.
In 1957, he was accepted with an age waiver for admission to Officer Candidate School at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. He said “it was one hurry-up place. Get up, clean up, shut up, bone up and stand tall while doing it. Damn first class would never leave you alone never a moment of peace. Got so habit forming I treated my second class the same way.” He graduated and was commissioned in 1958.
He was transferred to Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas where they had their third son. Two weeks later they were off again to Moore Field in Texas for pilot training. He was there about 2 months and got about 25 hours logged in on the T-34 Trainer. He said “Piloting and I didn't work out as the classes were over-sized and they only advanced the top guns.”
In 1959, the family moved again to Amarillo, Texas then to Harlingen AFB in Texas for navigation training. He earned his wings in December of 1960.
In December 1961, the family moved once again to Sewart AFB in Tennessee. “This began the most enjoyable duty so far in 9 years” he said. It was an interesting and busy mission with never a dull moment. The 314th Troop Carrier Wing and the 50th Troop Carrier Squadron had a top-notch complement of men with a glorious record during WWII and Korea.
In September of 1962, he received orders to Rhein Main Air Force Base where the family eventually joined him 3 months later. The mission had them flying circles around the Soviet bloc borders. This was another interesting mission and an interesting place to spend over three years. This is where they had their 4th son.
In January 1966, orders sent the family to Lockbourne AFB in Ohio. The family moved on base while he completed College in Omaha, Nebraska with a degree in Political Science. He trained with the army on the C-130A for a Vietnam tour. In December of 1968, he was sent to Vietnam so he moved the family to his hometown, Sanborn, Iowa. Frank travelled and served in Guam, Vietnam, Congo, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Italy, Greece, Holland, Belgium, England and South East Asia.
He finally came back to the States in 1970 to Little Rock AFB in Jacksonville, Arkansas where he retired in 1971. The last 15 months went rapidly, he once said, and the last 2 weeks they said no more flying. So they assigned him as a casualty notification officer where he had to pay a call on a family in Pine Bluff, AR to notify a widow of the death of her airman son. He said that was harder than a year’s worth of duty in South East Asia. During his twenty years of service, there was never an in-line-of-duty death or a loss of an aircraft in his squadron. He considered himself very fortunate.
After retirement he was self-employed as a farm chemical salesman and later became involved in kitchen cabinetry sales, design and installation. In 1985 the nest was empty and he and Marilyn traveled and enjoyed the states before her death in 1990. Family was most important to Frank. The freedom of travel and adventure was his passion. He loved to drive the country and stop to visit family, friends and old service buddies along the way. He seemed to know someone in every State. He lived life with a daily interest in learning and willingness to engage in conversation with anyone. He read the newspaper every day. He had a sense of right and wrong. He was dedicated to his country. He was frugal, living well within his means. Frank lived an honorable, adventurous, fulfilling life and believed he had a blessed life.
Frank is survived by his brother George (Carol) Baker of Buena Park, CA; four sons: Gordon (Cindy) of North Little Rock, Dennis (Ginger) of Clovis, CA, Robert of Farmington, MN, and Alex (Mary Kaye) of North Little Rock; grandchildren: Justin (Jeni) Baker of Clovis, CA, Laura Baker of North Little Rock, Jamie (John) Thompson of Clovis, CA, Chris (Christian) Baker of Little Rock, Will and Alyssa Baker of North Little Rock, and Samson and Nina Baker of Farmington MN; great-grandchildren: Lee and Logan Barela, Peyton, Whitt, and Chandler Baker, Max and Ethan Thompson, Clint and Dean Baker. He is also survived by a host of nieces, nephews and other extended family and friends.
Frank was preceded in death by his parents; his loving wife of 37 years, Marilyn; one brother, Dewey Baker; his sisters, Minnie Freier and Margaret Foley; daughter Caroline Baker; granddaughter Angel Baker; and daughter-in-law Mimi Baker.
Visitation will be at the North Little Rock funeral home on Saturday February 1, 2020 at 2:00 pm concluding with full military honors at 4:00 pm. A graveside memorial service will be held at a later date at the Roseland Cemetery in Sanborn, Iowa.
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