WWII vet had ‘close calls’ on B-17 bombing runs

Dennis Baker, 93,  dances with the 2012 version of the Andrews Sisters during Heritage Days at Peachtree City’s Falcon Field this past weekend. Photo/John Munford.

In World War II, Dennis Baker was a bombardier on a B-17, helping attack specific Axis targets in occupied Europe.

But on Sunday Baker, 93, was cutting a rug with three young ladies posing as The Andrews Sisters who invited him to the stage during their show at the annual World War II Heritage Days in Peachtree City.

They made sure to make Baker feel welcome, as he got pecks on the cheek from the gals as they danced to “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.

When America became involved in WWIII, Baker was 20 and working at his father’s bakery in Washington, D.C., when he decided to enlist. He had seen the movie theater newsreels of others doing the same following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Baker said he signed up because of his sense of duty to the country.

“Well, of course,” he said. “I was going to fight!”

Baker logged 35 bombing missions in WWII, including one time when he thought for sure his airplane was a goner. The German fighters were coming from the rear and had taken out several Allied bombers. Baker’s plane was the last one still flying.

“I said, ‘Oh boy, we’re next,’” he recalled. “So I got on the PA system and I told the guys what I saw. I said to be aware: they’re going to come right after us. But they didn’t come.”

As to why the Germans never made an attack run, the guess was their planes either ran out of ammunition or fuel, Baker said.

That was not Baker’s only close call. None of the missions were easy given the presence and persistance of the anti-aircraft “flak” shots. There was no room for evasive maneuvers because the planes had to fly in a certain formation for maximum coverage on the attack, Baker noted.

Baker was hit once by flak that penetrated his plane. He was protected by a flak jacket, which managed to save his life.

“It hit me in the chest and knocked me back, breaking the back of the seat,” Baker said. “... I guess I was knocked out for maybe 30 seconds or something like that. But then I got back up on the bomb sight and finished the mission.”

Baker was asked if he remembered whether he was wounded.

“No, I was just so glad it didn’t kill me,” he said.

Baker’s very first mission was to attack an aircraft manufacturing facility.

“We were going to help,” he joked.

Other targets would include various factories and railroad tracks, so the Axis war effort would have a hard time moving supplies. In addition to serving as a bombardier, Baker also manned a machine gun in the nose of the bomber.

Baker retired from the Air Force as a major in 1963. But on Sunday afternoon, he was a special guest of The Andrews Sisters, dancing with all three at the same time as other show performers joined the U.S. war re-enactors in a conga line.

The WWII Heritage Days show was part of the two-day effort undertaken by the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in Peachtree City. The CAF maintains historical aircraft and also has a mission to educate the citizenry about war efforts.

Baker, who lives in Peachtree City, was one of an estimated 30 guests at the event who served in WWII.