Spc. Ryan T. Baker
Birth: Dec. 20, 1978
Death: Nov. 15, 2003
A fearless soldier, a bereaved mom...
Army Spc. Ryan T. Baker came home to Burlington County from Iraq last month to bury his father, Dane Baker, who died Oct. 4.
Eleven days ago, Baker returned to his job as a helicopter mechanic and gunner with the 101st Airborne Division with these parting words to his family: "Don't worry." "He thought he was invincible. He was fearless," his uncle, Michael Ewing, said last night.
Just after 10 p.m. Saturday, an Army major and a chaplain arrived at Victoria Baker's house to tell her that her 24-year-old son's helicopter had collided with another chopper near Mosul and that he was among 17 soldiers killed. "Don't tell me you are here about my boy," his mother told the officers when they arrived, according to the uncle.
Yesterday, as military investigators in Iraq tried to determine whether ground fire led to the crash of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Baker's family gathered at his mother's modest ranch home in Browns Mills and searched for answers of their own.
Monica Ewing, Baker's aunt, said the soldier's mother was inconsolable since the visit Saturday. "She just buried her husband, now she has to bury her baby," she said.
Baker, a burly young man who prided himself on his knowledge of the Black Hawk helicopter and the importance of his unit's mission, had returned to New Jersey on emergency leave after his father's death. His father, a retired Navy man, was 55 when he died of a heart attack.
After his father's funeral, Baker told his family that although he was grateful the Army had granted his leave, he was eager to return to his buddies and the unit, which is based in northern Iraq. Baker made his last contact with his family on Friday, leaving a message to his mother, on her home answering machine, saying he was "going to be back in action." Again, he said not to worry, that he would call Tuesday.
"He said don't worry about me, and now, 11 days later, he's gone," Ewing said. "We don't know why."
Baker had been involved in the raid that killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, in Iraq in July and felt the unit's job wasn't done, his uncle said.
"Don't worry, we will get Saddam," Baker told his uncle before returning to Iraq.
Baker enlisted in the Army after graduating from Pemberton High School in 1997. Because his father had served in the Navy, Baker believed military life would suit him. After basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Baker was assigned to the elite airborne division at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Baker was not married, but was devoted to his 2-year-old son, Tristan, who lives in Tennessee with the boy's mother.
In Iraq, Baker performed maintenance on the helicopters the 101st Airborne Division uses to ferry troops from flash point to flash point. When his helicopter was airborne, Baker's job was to man a machine gun mounted at the aircraft door. The position on the helicopter gave Baker a bird's-eye view of some of the war's heaviest fighting. He told his uncle: "War is an ugly business, it's not what you see on TV." The helicopter crew position also put Baker shoulder-to-shoulder with VIPs who visited the combat zone.
On his last trip home, Baker showed his family snapshots taken of him with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been a passenger on Baker's helicopter in September.
His uncle said Baker's family continues to support the troops in Iraq, but now has reservations about their mission.
"Now that this has happened, our whole outlook has changed," Michael Ewing said. "It doesn't look like it's a winnable battle."
Brig. Gen. Wm. C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery
New Jersey, USA
Plot: SECTION O1 SITE 1566