Special memento returned to Cassville family after 55 years

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Truman Baker, back row, third from left, poses for a photo as a young navigator in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Contributed photo

Cassville Democrat article reaches former Monett student in Washington state who had local man's WWII wings

In an example of serendipity and the far-reaching effects of 21st Century social media, a special memento and keepsake of a Cassville native, given to a fourth-grade school boy more than 55 years ago in Monett, was recently returned after the man read an article in the Cassville Democrat from the other side of the country.

According to Truman Baker's daughter, Ann Baker Lassiter, the man, Mike Williams, who now lives in Washington state, read a recent article in the Cassville Democrat about Ann and her sister, Kay Baker, waitressing at the CCC Lodge in the late 1950s. Recognizing the name Williams decided to mail Lassiter a special item -- her late father's navigator wings from WWII.

Baker

The wings belonged to Cassville native and local banker, Truman Baker.

"My mother, Mary Frances Baker, was a school teacher in Monett in 1961," Lassiter said. "She didn't get hired in Cassville because my dad was on the school board and due to nepotism, they wouldn't let them hire a spouse. She was teaching her class about the war and my dad was a navigator during World War II in the Air Force. And so she took a box with his medals and items to share with her class and one of her students, Mike Williams, was so entranced he wouldn't put down the wings, and so she gave them to him."

Williams had apparently kept and treasured the wings for more than half a century.

"[Williams] sent me the sweetest letter and mailed the wings back to me," Ann said. "Because of the story having my name in it about the lodge, he got the address and mailed the wings to me. And so I wrote to him and told him how much I appreciated his kindness for doing that. And the fact that he's kept them since 1961... and returned them....it shows that he loved them enough to kept them that many years. And [he] thought there might be a grandson that might like to have them. I thought that was very sweet of him.

"My dad, Truman Baker, was a special man," Lassiter said. "You can talk to anyone in Cassville that knew him, and they liked him. He taught a Sunday school class of his age group for many years and was an elder in the First Christian Church of Cassville and on the church board, president of Rotary Club, involved in Chamber of Commerce, the school board, etc. Dad was a good, Christian man."

Baker

"I thought [Mike returning the wings] was neat," said Kay Baker.

The sisters were happy the wings are back in the family, and felt their father, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 94, would be pleased.

"Some of my daddy's happiest days were when he was in the military," Baker said. "Daddy was at Langley Air Force Base, and he was going to England with a flight crew. Navigation was brand new, and daddy was good at it. That's when you just looked at a little circle. He was so good at it, that they asked him to stay at Langley and teach navigation.

"[Being in the services] was the making of him. Daddy was raised one of nine children. That's how daddy was able to move to banking services and do so well was because of how well-rounded the service made him."

After the war, Baker returned to Cassville and helped his wife run The Corner Store, which carried newspapers, books, had a soda fountain and was a bus hub.

"He had married my mother, and when my sister and I were babies, she owned a business where Willis Insurance is today called The Corner Store," Lassiter said. "They had a soda fountain and sold magazines, comic books, and bus tickets. She was trying to manage all of that and two small children on her own, so dad got out of the military to help her with the store. Everybody rode the bus back then. One went to the state line and came back. It would go through Monett, Springfield, Verona and Arkansas. The bypass didn't exist then. The store ran until 11 p.m. at night and opened at 5:30 a.m., when the first bus came through."

But another business, and venture, came calling.

"Dad had a head for numbers," Lassiter said. "One day, the president of the First National Bank, Arthur Smith, came by and asked Truman if he'd ever thought of going into banking. He started out as a cashier and worked his way up to president. The bank was First National when my dad went into it (where Tomblin's Jewelry is now). In 1961, they built a new bank, where Arvest is, and after dad retired from there, it was Boatman's. And then, Stan Kelley, after starting Freedom Bank, recruited dad to be on their board. He did all of his business with a handshake. He knew how many cattle customers had or how much land they owned. He retired from banking when it became federal and everything had to be backed up with [so much] paperwork. But for a long time, mom taught school and they ran the store together, and dad was cashier at the bank."

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