Early Years - Harry Baya
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Last updated May 13, 2020

Chapter 2 : Early Years

I was born in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 1939 in the Tampa General Hospital on Davis Island.  My parents and my sister, Madge, were living with my father’s parents at 2009 Bayshore Blvd,  a few miles across the bay from Davis Island.

My mother told the story of my father driving her to the hospital for my birth.  Mother was in the back seat, moaning.  My father said “Lie down Madge!” and, as mother tells it, she replied “Lie down hell!, That’s what got me into this condition in the first place.”   True or not the fact that she told this story tells something about my mother.

My father was practicing law as a partner with his father in downtown Tampa.  Sometime in the next year of so my father bought a house within a mile or two of his parent’s house and we moved there.   I think I have some memories of being in that house.  In later years when I was in Tampa my father would sometime drive by that house and point it out to me.

When the U.S. entered World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941 I was 17 months old.  Madge, born on May 29, 1937, was 2-1/2.  Our father and younger brother Harry were active in the Florida National Guard.  My father was a lt. Colonel, an impressive rank for a 34 year old .  He and Harry were called on active duty in 1941 and I saw very little of him until he returned from the war at the end of 1945  My best guess is that my father suddenly disappearing from our lives at this tender age had a strong effect on me and my sister.

My father was in the 31st Infantry.  Division, known as the “Dixie Division”.  The division, was composed of men from Alabama, Florida, Georgia Louisiana and Mississippi.  Wikipedia says it was mobilized on Nov 25, 1940, which seems odd to me since Pearl Harbor occurred in 1941. It was assigned for training at Camp Blanding, Florida.  I have two memories of Camp Blanding.  One of them may be due to having been told the story of the event, but I do have a visual memory of being on a dock. Camp Blanding is on a lake and there was a dock going out into the lake.   I was probably 2 or 3 years old.   I walked off the side of the dock and nearly drowned.  Someone jumped off the dock and pulled me out.

I remember my father driving my sister in me through the woods at Camp Blanding in a half-track vehicle (who knows, maybe it was just a pick up truck).   He was giving us a thrill and was driving over small trees like a tank.  I thought it was great.

The other memory of my father during the war was at a motel in Orlando, Florida. My father had been sent back from his unit in the Pacific for training and my mother, sister, and I joined him at a motel near the training center. I found some of dad’s papers last night and saw that he was at U.S. Army school in Olando in June of 1944.  I would have been 4 years old.  I remember that the motel had a small fountain and small cement pond, 6 to 10 feet in diameter, in the center of the U shaped motel building.  There were lots of other young kids there and we played together.   At one point one of us found a bullet and we tried to set it off by banging it with a hammer and nail.  Luckily we failed.   My father found us doing this and, as I recall, rather than being mad, he showed that the bullet could be taken apart.  He poured out the powder and lit it with a match.  We were strongly advised that bullets were VERY dangerous and that we were not to play with them If we found any more we should turn them in.

That and the half-track truck are my earliest clear memories.

My next memory was of the wedding reception for the marriage of my Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Henry.  Rosalie was the youngest of my father’s four siblings.  They were married in July of 1944 so I would have been 4 years old, and would turn 5 at the end of the month.  The reception was held in my Grandfather’s house at 2009 Bayshore, Blvd in Tampa.   I remember that my piece of cake had something hard in it and showed it to an adult.  It was probably related to the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition of putting a toy in a cake.  In this case it was a ring.  I was told it was for an adult and I did not get to keep it.  Though I don’t remember this my parents told me that at that wedding I had to be told to stop hitting women on the bottom.  Ahh the good old days.

Abingdon, Virginia

I don’t know when my father left the U.S. to go to the South Pacific for WW II.  At some point mother must have moved to Abingdon to be with her family.   We lived in a house called “Carpet Hill” just off of Court Street.  The house is still there and I remember it well.  I remember that my mother’s father, Granddaddy White, lived in the house and I would sit with him at breakfast.   He put a lot of sugar in his coffee and I was allowed to eat the remaining sugar.  I wrote a little more about these memories in the Abingdon section of these memories.

The main things I remember were :

Going to Sunday School, and I think a summer program, at the Episcopal Church in Abingdon.   An elderly woman, a cousin (“Cousin Katie Booker”, the woman that had lived in the house Paul Blaney now lives in) ran the Sunday school.  I assume she is the same cousin who had the boys summer camp at Red Rock near Saltville.

I started first grade at the Abingdon grade school.  It was located where the library is now, at the northwest corner of Valley Street and Oak Hill.  I remember that I and my then best friend, Irvin Wells, gathered with the other first graders waiting to be sent to a classroom.   We were pretty confused but not afraid.

One night I was woken up in my room at Carpet Hill and brought downstairs to the main living room where there was a group of ten or more adults, including some aunts and uncles.   It turned out that my father had just returned that night from the Pacific.  I was introduced to him.  I did not recognize him at all and was kind of frightened.   He gave me, probably then, a Japanese officer’s Samurai sword which I had until about 15 years ago.  I don’t know what happened to it.  I assume this was in December of 1945 and I would have turned 6 the previous summer.  The 31st division was returned to the U.S. on Dec 12, 1945.

Washington D.C. area

When my father returned from the war he had planned to move back to Tampa and resume his law practice.   However he visited the Pentagon and met with friends and staff there who offered him a position helping write a bill for congress that would formalize the structure of the U.S. armed forces and replace the many temporary bills that had been passed during the war.  This appealed to him and he accepted the position and began to work in the Pentagon.  I believe this was  a very challenging and rewarding job for him and I think he did exceptionally well at it.  He was part of the general staff reporting to the U.S.Army Chief of staff.  This entitled him to wear the badge below for the rest of the career.  I belief this badge commanded considerable respect in the U.S. Army.  I have this badge.

My mother, sister and I moved to be with daddy.  Initially we lived in a rented part of a house.  I remember it particularly because we used an ice box rather than a refrigerator.  The ice man came several times a week bringing large blocks of ice.  The block was broken into smaller blocks and put into the refrigerator/icebox to keep things cold.  Also, at that point, and throughout the time we lived in the Washington, D.C. area, milk was delivered daily to our house in glass bottles.  There was a small insulated box on the front steps.  The milkman put the milk and butter in that container.   The milk contained cream at the top of the bottle.   Eggs were also delivered with the milk.

I think we were only in that house for a few weeks.   We then moved to a nice house in Falls Church, Virginia and Madge and I were enrolled in the Catholic School there.  This would have been in the middle of first grade for me.  I remember that I did not like the school on the very first day.  I had never been around nuns and they seemed mean and scary to me.  It was a rainy day.  I walked out the front door of the school into the rain and left, crying.   A woman driving by saw me crying on the street and picked me up.  We drove around until I recognized my house and she took me in to mother.  I don’t remember what happened but I did eventually adjust to that school and do not have unhappy memories of my time there.   I had my first communion in the church next to the school. I remember that I had a little white suit consisting, I think, of short pants and a jacket and felt quite holy.  This also meant the beginning of going to confession and the introduction of the concept of sin into my life.  I may write about that some time.  I remember that I was sometimes punished by the nuns.  They put hot pepper in my mouth and made me stand in the hall for 5 minutes or so before I could go to the water fountain.  I also remember winning prizes (a rosary, a missal ) for doing well at memorizing the catechism.

The street we lived on in Falls Church had a lot of children.  I think we lived there for about two years and Madge and I got along well with the kids.  I was one of the youngest.   Madge, and most of the other kids, had bikes.   I had a large red scooter and tried to keep up with them.  Once again, I have quite a few memories of that era but will limit myself to a few at the moment.

My best friend, Leason Fox (not sure of the name) lived more or less across the street and we played together a lot.  Among other things we would use a garden hose to create a small stream in his backyard and the create dams, little ponds, and spill ways down the hill behind his house.  We also made little boats, often just a piece of wood, and floated them in the water.  One year his father had a phone in his car.  I think it was a kind of short wave device, a fairly large box.  I was impressed.

There was a large family down the hill from us name Cook.  They had a number of children, all older than me, but one girl was Madge’s age ( Caroline/”Cookie”) and Madge has stayed in touch with her over the years.  My parents became friends with the Cooks and socialized with them.  The Cooks owned some land not far from Seven Corners (then just a little intersection with a gas station or two and a general store) and were building a house there.  Madge, mother and I spent several weeks there over several summers while the house was being built.  Our fathers went in to work during the week.  This piece of property was referred to as Cricket Hill.   Cookie’s brother was named Casual (as I remember it) and I stayed near him when we went away from the camp.

I remember that all the kids at Cricket Hill (usually 4 to 7 or so of us) slept in a shack about 50 yards from the main house.  It had been a chicken coop at one time.  The Cook boys had 22 rifles and we would all go out and shoot.  I remember lying on my back shooting at a buzzard way above us. We also shot at rabbits, though I don’t think I ever hit one.  When the boys would kill a rabbit we would bring it home and mother would cook it. 

Fireworks were not so tightly controlled then and we used to buy and play with them, especially M80’s and Cherry Bombs.  We were lucky no one was hurt.

I have other memories of snakes, swimming, poker and fun and may write them up later.   I could also write about being spanked for lying, fires, punishment and the nearby monkey that scratched me.

I remember that my father and mother would have occasional gatherings for dinner around a fire  in the backyard at Falls Church.  There would be 6 to 12 or so adults there and they would sit out back around the fire, drink, and sing songs.  These were among the few times I remember either of my parents singing. Some of the songs were army songs  (Old King Cole, “Over Hill, Over Dale”, “Down by the Riverside”) but others included “Dixie” and “The Swanea River”.  I believe the men in the group were southern Army friends of my fathers and some had served with him overseas.  The one song I remember most clearly is one I learned from my father and have never heard anyone else sing.  Here are the words. I may record it for this collection of memories:

Papa didn’t grow no corn last year

Papa didn’t grow no taters

Papa didn’t grow very much last year


We had a pup tent and Madge and I would sometimes go to sleep in the pup tent during the singing and were allowed to spend the night outside, if we had the nerve.

There was a large tree in the front yard and I learned, and loved, to climb that tree.  I remember being quite good at it and would go higher up than any of the other kids.  I also liked to sit up there.  I think I was lucky at not getting hurt, and probably also careful.  I am pretty sure I remember going to sleep in that tree.

Yoyos were a big deal at this time and there was a big town contest ever year. I also got into comic books.  My favorite was “Little Lucy”.

Other memories from Falls Church: stinging weeds, tadpoles,  and playing in  houses being built. 

My parent’s had friend named “Blacky” Haines.  We would visit him and his eccentric family on a farm.  I believe he worked for the Washington newspaper and may have been a cousin of my mothers.  He had a pickup truck and we kids used to ride in the back with one or more dogs.

At some point we moved from Falls Church to Fairlington, Virginia, a part of Alexandria.   I found a report card in my father’s papers that shows I was enrolled in the 3rd grade in Fairlington from 1947 to 1948.  I assume part of the reason for the move was that it was closer to the Pentagon where my father worked.  We lived at 1436 South 35th street.  I have been back to visit that address and walked the grounds I used to play in.

We lived in Falls Church from the spring of 1946 until moving to Fairlington some time prior to the start of school in the fall of 1947.  We lived there till we moved to England in 1950.  I would have been in 1st and 2nd grade in Falls Church and in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade in Fairlington.  Daddy  would occasionally take me into the Pentagon.  I remember the court yard in the center and I remember seeing the handball (or something like it) courts.  At one point In the Pentagon he introduced me to the officer who was in command of the troops trapped in the “Battle of the Bulge”, the one who said “Nuts” (Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe) when the Germans asked for his surrender.

Below is  my report card from the fall of 1949, fifth grade :

My father’s father, my Granddaddy Baya, died in December of 1949 at age 79.  We drove through the night from Fairlington to Tampa and were there for the funeral and Christmas.  I remember that drive fairly clearly (The Chimunks were singing,  “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer”  was a hit ).  I remember Grandmother crying as the gifts for granddaddy were opened.   Below is an obiturary from the Tampa newspaper:

My father’s group completed the bill they were working on it was signed by president Truman.  My father was at the signing and I have a picture from that event.  I will include it below when I find it.  I believe he was one of the primary authors of that bill and was held in high respect by those who had worked with him.  I think my father was very bright, probably considerably smarter than me.  He also had a well organized mind, and life.  I did not.  Though I believe my father loved and respected me, as I did him, I don’t think he ever felt he really understood me.  I was very different from him in many ways.

As he approached the end of his work in the Pentagon my father once again planned to leave the army and return to his law practice in Tampa.  At this point he was offered a chance to move, with his family, to London, England, to work on the legislation that would eventually become NATO.   At that point the organization was called JAMAG (Joint American Assistance Group).   I infer that he and mother thought it would be interesting to live in England, and would be a good experience for both Madge and me.  He took the job and we left for England in the summer of 1950.

My father had a good friend, Gage Spies (that’s the way the name was spelled, but it was pronounced to rhyme with trees), with whom, I think, he worked, in the Pentagon.  Gage was assigned to the same group as my father in London and our families ended up travelling to England on the same ship.  We also came back on the same ship.   The Spies’ two daughters, Margy and Mimi were roughly the same ages as Madge and me.  We met them before we went to England and became good friends while we were there.  We spent weekends together and took horseback riding lessons together.  We remained friends, but not as close, in the year we spent in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, after we returned from England.