William J. Baker

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NAME:
William Jessamin Baker
NICKNAME:
SERVICE NUMBER:
Unknown
HOME OF RECORD:
Cambridge, MA
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Jean Houghton Baker
DATE OF BIRTH:
7/11/1915
SERVICE DATES:
1942 – 1945
DATE OF DEATH:
3/24/1993
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE RESULT
Roi-Namur 1/24
(Aid Station)
Assistant Surgeon Lieutenant (j. g.)  
Saipan 1/24
(Aid Station)
Assistant Surgeon Lieutenant (j. g.) WIA
Tinian 1/24
(Aid Station)
Assistant Surgeon Lieutenant (j. g.)  
Iwo Jima 4th Medical Battalion Surgeon Lieutenant  
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Silver Star, Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Lieutenant

William Baker was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the only son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Baker. He attended Cambridge Latin School, where he showed a flair for the dramatic arts. However, he would dedicate his life to another theater; after receiving his BS from Harvard in 1936, Baker obtained his master’s in psychology (Tufts, 1937) and his MD from Harvard Medical School (1942). He interned for Dr. Francis Moore at Boston General, and while there met a scrub nurse named Jean Houghton. The two were married shortly before Baker enlisted in the United States Navy.

 

wjbakerhighschoolwjbakerharvard

William Baker at Cambridge Latin (top) and starting at Harvard Medical School (1937)

As a Lieutenant (junior grade), Baker learned the craft of military medicine at the Medical Field Service School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Camp Elliott, California. He was headed for the Fleet Marine Force as a front-line surgeon; in contrast to corpsmen who were taught to perform emergency, temporary procedures, the battalion surgeons were responsible for more complicated procedures designed to keep their Marines alive in the field until they could be brought to more sophisticated facilities.

Baker’s tenure at Camp Elliott came to an abrupt end with his transfer to 1/24th Marines on December 31, 1943. The previous surgeon, Lieutenant Francis Shiring, was spending more time receiving medical care than administering it, and with his poor health it was not deemed wise to send him overseas. (Shiring would later serve with distinction aboard the USS Zeilin.) The assistant surgeon, Lt. (j. g.) Richard Porter, was named as Shiring’s replacement, and Lt. (j. g.) Baker was to fill Porter’s old position. Suddenly, Baker was second-in-charge of all medical procedures for an entire battalion of Marines – and right on the eve of combat, no less; exactly two weeks later, his unit boarded a transport and sailed for the Marshall Islands.

Doc Baker and Doc Porter after treating their first combat casualties in the battle of Namur, February 1944.
Doc Baker and Doc Porter after treating their first combat casualties in the battle of Namur, February 1944.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Baker treated his first wounds on Namur in February 1944. He continued to practice his craft through the spring of that year, and was up to his elbows in bandages again that June as his battalion invaded the island of Saipan. “Doc” Baker soon showed that he was not only competent at operations but cool under fire. Immediately after the landing, he demonstrated great courage in treating and evacuating the numerous wounded, and on July 8, 1944, a bullet passed through his leg as he treated a casualty right behind the front lines. Too many of his corpsmen were down, so Baker flatly refused to be evacuated, and continued on with his work. The strain finally caught up to him on Tinian and he was evacuated for illness on July 30 – but came right back to duty four days later.

Upon returning to Maui, Doc Baker spent a good deal of time in a nearby naval hospital, receiving treatment for his leg wound and other ailments. He had just returned to the battalion when, on October 30, he received the Purple Heart Medal and the Silver Star for his service in the Marianas.

William Baker left the battalion in the winter of 1944 and joined the Headquarters and Service company of the Fourth Medical Battalion. He was promoted to full Lieutenant and landed on Iwo Jima, where he spent the next several weeks treating the wounded of the Fourth Marine Division. It is possible that he saw some familiar faces from his former battalion on his operating table; given Doc Baker’s reputation, it would have been the lucky Marine who came to him for aid.

By the end of the war Baker had seen enough broken bodies to last a lifetime, yet continued with his medical career. After training at the VA in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, William Baker MD moved to Laconia, New Hampshire – thus becoming the first board-certified general surgeon in the entire state (excluding the city of Dartmouth). His long career extended into the 1980s, during which time he was a charter member of the Northeast Medical Association, pushed for helmet and seatbelt legislature in New Hampshire, and worked with a team of breast cancer survivors in a precursor to the Reach for Recovery network. Throughout his life he was a strong proponent of prevention of injury being the best medicine, and instilled his values in his children, some of whom became doctors themselves.

Bill Baker passed away in 1993.

Note: Non-military biographical information for this biography was sourced from Christopher C. Baker, MD, “Surgical Mentors,”  Archives of Surgery vol. 138 (October, 2003), 1154.
Dr. Christopher Baker is the son of William J. Baker.

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