How I Was Charged with Desertion
It was early on a November morning in 1952 during the Korean War when we were called out in ranks at Camp Stoneman, Pittsburg, CA. Then we carried our duffel bags and suitcases as we were marched to the ferry that took us down the waterway to the Oakland port.
At the port we made the same formation and were then asked to get in line at the gangplank of the docked troopship, the USS General Randall. Just as I was ready to board another name was called but when there was no response, mine was then called, I answered, and climbed up the ramp.
I now can’t remember the man’s name that was called before mine but we were not on board an hour before his name was blared over the loud speaker to report for KP. Various times during the voyage his name was called again and again and I just supposed he had gotten on board later and that he was reporting as requested when he was called for whatever purpose he was needed.
Fifteen days into the voyage and three days out of the Japanese Yokohama Port, all 2,700 of us troop passengers streamed into a large compartment to be given our final assignment. I knew a few of us were to report to various bases in Japan but the majority were to be directed to bases in Korea.
When I gave the sergeant my identification card he searched the listings for Airman 2nd Class David N. Baker but no such name could be found. I think he was as shocked as I was when after he got on the phone and talked for a couple of minutes he hung up and stated that the records showed that I was a deserter! I found out then that when the name called out before mine was not answered the man at the foot of the gangplank had accidentally circled my name instead of the missing man’s name.
Shortly, the sergeant was able to give me my orders which assigned me to K2, Taegu Air Base, South Korea.
Many days passed as I traveled by train across Japan and flew from Fukuoka across the channel to Seoul, Korea and then took a train south to Taegu Air Base which was my headquarters but there I found that my final assignment was further south to the Pusan Port. I then did not think any more about the glitch at the Oakland Port.
But after a few days in Pusan a flock of letters caught up with me, including some from my mother and other relatives back home. I was asked what kind of trouble I had been in, because the FBI had visited people in our town of Clarksburg, Indiana and also gone to my folk’s farm near Clarksburg, as they were trying to find out where I might be hiding. The FBI agents even told my parents and others that I was a deserter!
The government never mentioned the problem again, but to this day, there are people back home in Indiana that still think I had been up to something bad.
-Maj. David N. Baker USAF (Ret)