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Bob Barker of "Price Is Right"...former Naval Pilot
Robert William Baker was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy two
and a half years (1942)after he enlisted because the navy ordered him to remain
at Drury College in Springfield, MO His sophomore year. He had to have completed
two years of college to qualify to become a naval aviation cadet. He reported
for active duty on June 9, 1943.
Over the course of eighteen months, He trained at eight different wartime
locations flew eight different airplanes, including the legendary Corsair. He
states in his auto biography he enjoyed the camaraderie of the navy.
His navy training began at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, just
outside of Kansas City, Missouri. He was a member of the Sixth Battalion at
William Jewell. The first part of the cadet training was all ground school and
athletics. Hours of physical activity, conditioning, and sports. These were
hard-core physical training during June, July, and August in Missouri.
His first taste of flying came at the next training base, which was in Ames,
Iowa, at Iowa State University. At this location he had Civilian Flight
Instructors and he learn to fly and solo at age 19 in a Taylorcraft Plane.
After learning to fly a Taylorcraft at Iowa State University, He was transferred
the University of Georgia and what the navy called preflight school. At
preflight they put flying aside. The navy had four preflight schools in the
United States: the University of Georgia, St. Mary's in California; the
University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina. These preflight schools
were notorious throughout the navy for being tough, both in the ground school
and in physical training- particularly the physical training program.
When he got to preflight school in Georgia, they had tryouts for the preflight
basketball team. All branches of the service had athletic teams, and they were
an important part of morale. He had been at Drury College on a basketball
scholarship, so he tried out and was selected for the team. Playing on the
basketball team meant that Bob avoided all other athletic training.
After preflight, He went to Millington Naval Air Station just outside of
Memphis, Tennessee, where into official Navy flight training. This included
night and formation flying. At the Memphis base Bob was trained to fly the
Steamian, which was a biplane and an open cockpit.
His next wartime duty station was the huge naval air station at Corpus Christi,
Texas. Corpus Christi was a vast complex of airfields, Corpus Christi is where
he completed his flight training and was commissioned as an ensign. He had the
commanding officer pin my gold wing on his chest.
Bob's next step was what the navy called basic training. He was assigned to
Cabaniss Field for basic, and this phase of the training concentrated more on
flying and less on everything else. At this Phase of Bob's Training he was
flying more. He was also flying in his biggest airplane yet, the BT-13. It had a
retractable cockpit hood and retractable landing gear wheels. Within a month or
two, most men including Bob comfortable at the controls of a BT-13, takeoffs,
landings, formation flying, night flying, dogfighting, dive-bombing, acrobatics
ands they were ready for the next phase of training.
He trained to be a fighter pilot. He was sent to the field at Beeville for
instrument training. At Beeville he flew the SNJ, an even more powerful plane
than the BT-13. The SNJ was a trainer that was the next thing to a fighter.
Advanced training was next, and supposedly it was the last hurdle before
graduation . He went to Waldron Field for advanced and it included dogfighting,
this time flying the SNJ. Think this was the last leg he was informed that the
transiting program had been lengthen. He was sent to Preoperational training
using the SDB Dive Bomber for a few weeks.
Finally Receiving his commission he was sent to Operational Training at DeLand
Florida to fly FM-2 Fighters. In operational training he did more of all the
things he had learned along the way: lots of formation flying, night flying, and
dogfighting. But operational training also included gunnery flights; firing live
ammunition at a sleeve towed by one of the pilots in our flight; and field
carrier landings. He was sent up to the Great Lakes Naval Air Station to do
our twelve qualifying carrier landings on the Wolverine (a carrier kept at Lake
Michigan for just that purpose), and he was one of those who received a grade of
He was finally sent to Banana River Naval Air Station, expecting to be assigned
to a carrier squadron but instead was one of seven pilots that was their sole
responsibility was to fly out over the beautiful Atlantic and make gunnery runs
on US Navy Mariner aircraft. for testing the Mariners crew.
He was transferred again to learn to fly F4U Corsairs in Goose Isle, Michigan
and logged a few hours in the seat but the war coming to end. As Bob once said "
I was a naval aviator, a fighter pilot. I completed all facets of my training,
including my qualifying landings on a carrier. I was all ready to go, and when
the enemy heard that I was headed for the Pacific, they surrendered. That was
the end of World War II."
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