Hot Springs Village resident Bob Baker Jr., grew up in Illinois. He attended Illinois State University in Bloomington, left after his junior year and got drafted. He reported to Chicago for his physical exam, then took a flight to Fort Jackson, South Carolina in September 1969 for basic training.
Baker remembers much about the experience – powdered eggs, lots of “PT” (physical training) and those ever-present drill instructors yelling in his face. He said some of the men cried at night under the pressure of it all.
Baker weighed 180 pounds when he entered the Army, so he was made to do sit-ups before each meal.
“When I got out of basic training I weighed 150 pounds,” he said.
PT and classroom work were a part of each day, which began at 4:30 a.m. Inside the barracks the men would shine the linoleum floor, their boots, “and then the drill sergeant would walk down the middle (of the barracks on the linoleum floor) scuffing his feet all over, flip over a couple of beds because they weren’t made right, dump out your foot locker and raise holy hell with you and move on,” Baker said.
Occasionally the men would get weekend passes and go into the town of Columbia, but they were so tired from the daily grind of boot camp they’d all be in bed in their hotel by 9:30 p.m. “It wasn’t much of a weekend pass,” Baker noted.
He also told me about a racial incident that occurred, saying there were two guys from Georgia that didn’t care much for black people and made it known. In the latrine one day, a slur was said that was overheard which caused a problem, Baker said.
After basic training he received his MOS, making him a medic, which was a complete surprise to him. At this time, right at the end of basic, Baker got sick and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and strep throat. He also had some knee problems and stress fractures. “At one point the doctor said ‘you might be going home,’ but that didn’t happen,” Baker said. Once he was feeling better he shipped out.
With no medical background or experience he began the training at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, in late 1969. While there he also took a leadership training course which qualified him to assist drill instructors. The course was all about discipline.
His medical training was mostly about emergency medicine – bandaging, resuscitation, basic first aid, and a bit of hospital training, too. At the end of all the training, Baker thought for sure he was headed for Vietnam, but a few men were assigned to Korea, and he was one of them.
He was placed with the 125th Medical Detachment at Uijeongbu, South Korea, known as Camp Red Cloud. The camp was I Corps headquarters, a large compound with a transportation outfit nearby.
The 125th was small, just 25 guys on duty. Baker said the work was really interesting.
He started in the x-ray department along with a Korean national. Baker took and developed x-rays until an official x-ray technician showed up to do that work. Then he moved to the pharmacy department, filling prescriptions. The room where the medicines were stored was a mess, so he first began to clean it and get things organized, then started filling the prescriptions.
Then Baker moved on to the laboratory where he drew blood and looked at urinalysis issues. Next he was put in the physical examination room. Again, he inherited a mess which he straightened up, then began his work. Baker would check the patient’s vital signs, give a hearing test, an eye test, an EKG, fill out the required paperwork and pass the information on to the doctors.
Every man had his turn at night duty and that included Baker. One incident he recalls was when a call came in when he had night duty. Just outside the compound he was to pick up a Korean woman married to an American GI. “She was having a baby and we had to take her to Seoul. We’re going down the road, bouncing along and I’m trying to hold this woman, hoping she’s not going to have this baby. I can’t talk to her because she doesn’t speak English and she’s screaming and crying and fortunately we got to Seoul (before she had the baby),” Baker said.
Other skill Baker learned was suturing, which he learned by sewing pieces of cloth. After assisting a few times he did it on his own when a guy came in with a cut on his head. One night a guy came in with a piece of his finger cut off. Baker asked if he knew where the piece was. The man said yes, so Baker told the MPs to go get it and bring it to him, which they did. Then Baker sewed it onto the finger. Later he ran into the man and was told feeling had returned to the finger, so Baker was relieved to know he did the suturing correctly.
Another incident involved an Army man who gave injections. This fellow gave a patient a shot of penicillin and the patient nearly passed out. “He comes running down the hall yelling, help, help,” Baker said. The patient was eventually stabilized from what was likely an allergic reaction to the shot.
Baker had filled out paperwork to attend Duke University, preparing for a career in medicine. But he later changed his mind, deciding what he loved most was organization and the varying of the jobs he was to perform, so he changed his mind and elected not to go into medicine.
From his time in Korea, Baker said he really learned to appreciate what we have in America. Seeing Koreans living in grass huts and unhealthy, made a real impression on him. Coming back home made him see how fortunate we are in the US.
He got home in April 1971 and was discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington. From there he took a flight to Chicago where his parents took him home to Peoria.
As a civilian, Baker worked 42 years in the food distribution business, first as a route salesman, then sales manager and later in executive positions for the final 20 years of his work. During that time he worked in 23 locations in eight states. He and wife Debbie, his high school sweetheart, bought their first home in the Village in 1998. He retired in 2013 and moved here permanently from St. Louis, Missouri.
They have two children: Robert and Michael.
Looking back on his Army service Baker said it was one of the greatest experiences of his life, because for him it gave him direction and taught him discipline and appreciation.