MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Retired Army Sergeant Major Howard Bakeman passed away Saturday, June 1, 2013.
THE INTERVIEW - February 21, 2012
The men and women who served during World War II are often referred to as the greatest generation. The men and women are now in their late 80s and 90s, and sadly we lose more than a thousand of them daily.
Although his in his 90s, retired Army Sergeant Major Howard Bakeman tries not to miss any local service that honors those who served.
"These parades, I don't have to go, but I go. I owe it to them guys. I go to these military funerals because I owe it to them," said Bakeman, who is a Pearl Harbor survivor.
Bakeman is a familiar face at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. He said he proudly wears his dress blues and was a career Army man, serving 34 years on active duty.
The Boston native enlisted in the Army in 1934.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the then 23-year-old Staff Sergeant Bakeman was stationed in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks.
"We could hear the aircraft coming in. When the bombers came in, they strafed Schofield. They went across the village. They strafed and bombed Wheeler Army Airfield, went down to the Ewa Field Marine Base and then back to Pearl Harbor," Bakeman said. "This other Japanese wing came in, and they done the same thing. The Navy and its ships caught probably about 82-85 percent of the damage."
Two of Bakeman's brothers were also at Pearl Harbor. One was in the Navy aboard his ship, the USS Pennsylvania. Although more than 2,400 American servicemen died in the surprise attack, Bakeman said amazingly all his brothers survived.
Bakeman said he still remembers the radio announcement giving the U.S. military its orders to fight the Japanese to the finish.
"Shortly after President Roosevelt made the official declaration against the Japanese, Henry L. Stimpson Secretary of War 1941, he comes on the radio and he said, ‘All branches world wide, I'm going to give you a message. Listen very close because I'm not going to repeat it. Your tour of duty been extended until the duration and six months,'" Bakeman recalled. "I look at this way - the first mistake the Japanese made was bombing Pearl Harbor. The Japs got the first round. We got the rest of them."
Near the end of the war, Bakeman's Army Engineering Unit was training with the Marines. While awaiting orders, he said he heard rumors about a bomb - an atomic bomb that could end the fighting with Japan.
"The next thing you know, we get this rumble about this A-bomb," Bakeman said with a whistle. "You can go home now."
CONTINUING HIS ARMY CAREER
Bakeman returned to the states in 1946. He said he stayed in the Army, training for the next big assignment - one that came in 1950 on the Korean peninsula.
He said he was there for five years and remembers how cold the temperatures got in Korea.
"People complain about cold weather," said Bakeman. "Wintertime in Korea starting about October the ground, just, it will go down to 40 below zero. You've got winter field uniforms; you've got parkas and all this other stuff, including a mountain bed roll."
Bakeman said to this day, he still has the mountain bed roll used in Korea in his back room, but he no longer uses it because of the feathers.
Bakeman served another 13 years after his Korea duty.
In 1959, he was promoted to Sergeant Major. Bakeman said he proudly gave the Army 9 years after his promotion.
"I didn't have to pay for anything. It's not every employer that pays you to go to these exotic countries," Bakeman said.
Bakeman said that his dad, his two brothers, and he served a total of 123 years in the military.
"I take pride in this thing," Bakeman points to his dress blues uniform. "If I didn't like it, I wouldn't have stayed."
LIFE AFTER THE ARMY
Bakeman's last Army assignment was in Mississippi, near Laurel, before he retired in 1968. He spent a few months there after that, before settling in Mobile.
After retirement from active duty, Bakeman also had two successful years as an Army ROTC Instructor at Citronelle High School. He was recognized by the main recruiting station in Montgomery for having the largest amount of Army Cadets to enlist from the Mobile County schools.
Bakeman is still active and said he starts every day with 45 minutes of exercise in the mornings.
Bakeman will turn 94 this spring. Bakeman said his generation has experienced an incredible period of time.
"Well, considering what we'd gone through; alright just getting out of World War I, you got World War II. You've got Korea. I'd buy it. I'd buy it," he said.
Bakeman said there are a few keys to living.
"It's a day by day thing, and you accepting the changes," said Bakeman. "You can't do anything about them. Roll with the punch and you keep going, keep living. Be respectful. Remember where you came from. Remember where you are living. Respect authority and respect the flag. Now if they can't do that, they better pack and haul it. There's absolutely
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