Jim Baber was a young Air Force airman when he married his high school sweetheart, Elana, in June 1962. Thirty-three years later they returned to the same church before the same pastor in their hometown Covington, Kentucky, and renewed their vows.
But when duty called during the Vietnam War, Baber left his wife and their children behind as he served a year in Southeast Asia.
“I cannot sit down when the national anthem’s being played,” Baber, a recreation aide at the Links, said. “I can’t help but stand up, salute, support and defend our country. I bleed blue for UK and Kentucky, but I bleed for my country. I love my country, next to my God.”
UK of course stands for the University of Kentucky and he is a fan. He wears his blue Wildcats baseball cap at the Redstone golf course where he has worked about 15 years.
Baber retired from the Air Force in 1985 as a master sergeant after 24 years. He and Elana had started dating and going steady at Holmes High School where they graduated together in 1961. In their senior year, Baber had served as editor of the student newspaper “Holmespun” and as editor of the yearbook “Lest We Forget.” He spent a year at the University of Kentucky then decided to join the Air Force in January 1962.
That June 23 the 19-year-old airman and Elana, 18, were married in the Garrard Street Church of Christ. He was in training as a Morse code intercept radio operator at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Baber’s first assignment, in October 1962, was to the Royal Air Force in Chicksands, England. His son was born there in 1963 and his daughter was born in 1965.
He spent 1973 in Thailand as a Morse intercept operator with the 6922nd Radio Squadron Mobile, a small Air Force detachment on the Army post Ramasun Station Thailand near Udorn. The staff sergeant worked an eight-hour shift which had a three-cycle rotation. He sat in a building with the other radio operators listening on their headsets and writing down the signals they received. They would collect the intelligence for the analysts to use.
“I guess you would say it was intense,” Baber said. “You have to pick out the specific signal you’re looking for. And you try to track it, intercept it and copy it verbatim – exactly. Because with any intelligence, lives can be dependent on it.
“You just took for granted you did your job. And you had no idea how impactful it may have been.”
In his secure remote location, he didn’t experience bombings or mortar attacks. “We didn’t have that worry at all. We were very fortunate,” he said. “Of course you’re away from your family. So my wife and children were left when I went over there.”
In 1974 Baber had a choice of his next assignment and took his family back to Chicksands, England.
He and Elana have attended several of their high school class reunions. They anticipate the next will probably be 2021. Baber, 76, received an associate degree in communications from William Carey College around 1983. The couple reside in Harvest and they regularly attend Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Monrovia.
Their son, Danny, who resides in Arnaudville, Louisiana, retired as an Army staff sergeant after 20 years. Their daughter, Angela, lives in Alabaster. They have four grandchildren, one of whom is deceased, and one great-grandchild.
Baber shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“So little, so late,” he said. “The same thing could be said back in the Civil War and back with the way we treated Native Americans. This is a great country but we’ve got some black eyes.”
Editor’s note: This is the 241st in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.