Greensburg man was mine sweeper in Korean War, serious historian back home |
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Stephen Huba

As an Army combat engineer in Korea, Donald Baker once was sweeping for mines when he heard an explosion behind him.

He and his men realized they had walked over a live mine but had missed it. Despite that close call, the combat engineers of the 1st Cavalry Division, Dog Company, were critical to the war effort in Korea, his daughters said.

“They walked ahead of the tanks, looking for mines and tripwires. They’d use their bayonets to dig them up to ensure the safety of the tanks and the soldiers who walked behind them,” said his daughter Kathleen Baker-Brosh.

“He remembers many nights when he slept under the tank as a measure of safety,” she said.

Donald F. Baker of Greensburg died Wednesday, May 15, 2019, at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital, Greensburg. He was 90.

Born in Youngwood on June 5, 1928, he was a son of the late Thomas Seward and Emma Rose (Rigney) Baker. He attended school in Youngwood and graduated from Greensburg High School in 1945.

While in college, he decided to enlist in the Army. He served during the Korean War from 1950 to 1952.

“He could have avoided service, but he chose to enlist because he felt responsible to stand arm-in-arm with other men his age,” Baker-Brosh said. “He said he forged close friendships in the Army that remained for the rest of his life.”

Once, Mr. Baker and two other men who were scouting on ahead got separated from their unit.

“As they went ahead, they could hear enemy troops around them, getting nearer to them. They had to shelter in place as night fell. They felt they were going to be captured. In the morning, the sound grew more distant and they were able to rejoin their squadron,” Baker-Brosh said.

Upon his discharge, Mr. Baker met his future wife, Nancy, on a blind date in 1952. He impressed her because he paid with the $100 bills that were given to servicemen who were being discharged. That date, a hockey game in Pittsburgh, led to a marriage of nearly 65 years.

Mr. Baker’s interest in local history led him to found, with his friend Paul Ruff, the Baltzer Meyer Historical Society, named after the circuit-riding preacher Baltzer Meyer.

“One thing about my dad is that he really felt the present day is shaped by history, and he did not want the people to lose the historical significance of the area,” Baker-Brosh said.

He was instrumental in the naming of Baltzer Meyer Pike, the restoration of the old Harrold Zion Lutheran Church building and the renovation of Harrold School No. 8.

“My dad worked really hard to make the restoration of that (school) building exactly what it looked like in 1881,” she said.

The one-room schoolhouse is used today by the Hempfield Area School District for history day presentations for third-graders. Some of Mr. Baker’s great-grandchildren have attended the full-day presentations, said his daughter Susan Urchek.

Mr. Baker was preceded in death by a son and daughter-in-law, two grandsons and two siblings.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Susanne (Goodlin) Baker; four children, Timothy Baker, of Hurst, Texas, Susan Snyder Urchek and her husband, David, of Blairsville, Elizabeth Bandyk and her husband, Mark, of Amelia Island, Fla., and Kathleen Baker-Brosh and her husband, Bob, of Bel Air, Md.; 10 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

Family and friends are invited to attend a memorial service at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. John’s Harrold United Church of Christ, 103 St. John’s Church, Greensburg.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. John’s Harrold United Church of Christ.

Leo M. Bacha Funeral Home, Greensburg, is in charge of arrangements.

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