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Tim Stanley: Story of Oklahoma World War II POWs' escape 'could've been a movie'

January 11, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 36.9%. 4 min read.

George Baker and Calvin McGown, both now deceased, grew up just a few miles from each other in Okmulgee County. But they wouldn't meet until they ended up in the

Stanley Baker holds a drawing of his baby picture that a fellow prisoner of war drew for his father, World War II veteran George F.

Stanley Baker (left) and his sister Donna Moore and her husband Larry Moore pose with items from Stanley and Donna's father, World War II veteran George F.

Stanley Baker and his sister Donna Moore talk about their father, World War II veteran George F.

His family back in Okmulgee owned a Chevrolet dealership, he told him. If they ever made it out of this mess alive, he would sell Baker a Chevy at dealer price. The best keepsakeThe story of Baker and McGown, both now deceased, came to my attention recently when Baker’s son reached out to the Tulsa World. Stanley Baker, of Beggs, said he wanted to tell us about his late father George, a World War II staff sergeant with the 45th Infantry Division. His dad had been wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, he said, then was taken prisoner by the Germans before eventually escaping. I think my eyes probably grew a little wider as I listened to Stanley, realizing what he was sharing had the makings of a great story. And there’s no better time.

And thanks to the new Netflix WWII series “The Liberator,” the Oklahoma-based 45th Infantry has been receiving some national attention. I met the family last week — Stanley and his sister Donna Moore and her husband Larry Moore — and the first thing I told them was how awesome it was that they’d preserved the story. I’ve met so many families of late WWII veterans who regret later that they didn’t do that. Baker’s story, Donna told me, might’ve had the same fate. “My dad never really talked about the war,” she said. But after a heart attack late in life, suddenly, from his hospital bed, he opened up to her.

And somehow in the chaos, he would be thrown from the vehicle. Hurt and now separated from his squad, Baker was soon taken prisoner by German troops. He was transported from there to Stalag 13-D prison camp near Nuremberg, Germany, where he’d spend the next several weeks. His memories of the camp would not be pleasant. His wound, which went untreated, caused him a lot of pain. Cold and hunger — meals consisted of little more than a thin soup — only added to the misery. But one part of the experience at least made things more bearable. “George said right after he arrived at the camp, somebody there told him ‘hey, I think there’s another guy from Oklahoma here,’” Larry said. That was how Baker came to meet fellow POW, 25-year-old Calvin McGown. McGown, it turned out, was indeed a fellow Oklahoman. And not only that: he had grown up just a few miles from Baker in the same county. Five days on the run“I always thought dad’s story could’ve been a movie,” Donna said. And if it were, then March 27, 1945, is when the action would really get going. On that day, Baker, McGown and some other prisoners were loaded onto a train for transport to another camp. Baker recalled later fearing that it meant likely death — either at the hands of the Germans or from Allied aircraft, which were strafing trains.

He’d go on to recover fully — although years later, during gall bladder surgery, pieces of his green uniform were found still inside the wound area, Stanley said. Baker was able to resume the life he had left behind, reuniting with his wife and young son. For much of the next three decades, he wouldn’t talk about the war.

He started attending meetings of ex-POWs, which helped him to deal better with his own past traumas. Occasionally at those gatherings Baker would spot a familiar face. Following the war, McGown, too, had returned to the area, where he’d eventually take over the family auto dealership in Okmulgee. Back to that promise he’d given Baker during their imprisonment: McGown did end up making good on it, selling him a new car at dealer cost. But it took a little reminder from Baker first. “Dad called him up and said I hope you meant what you said because I need that car,” Stanley Baker recalled. McGown groaned and laughed.

He said he’d honestly hoped Baker had forgotten. Stanley remembers going with his dad to pick it up. Unbeknownst to him, Baker didn’t plan on keeping the new car. Money was the bigger need at the time, so he sold it for a few hundred dollars profit. With it, Baker would soon have enough to purchase land in Tulsa to build a service station, which he’d operate for many years. Even after all this time, Stanley’s eyes can still tear up when talking about his late dad’s war experience. He’s glad he got to learn more about it, although most of the details wouldn’t be known until a few years before Baker’s death in 1987. “I know almost all those veterans are gone now,” he said.

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