My Father’s Career   Harry Baya
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last update May 22, 2020

Other 4: My Father’s Career

My father, George Emery Baya, was born in Tampa, Florida on September 11, 1907.

He graduated from V.M.I. In 1927 at the age of 19.  He was second in his class in Civil Engineering when he graduated. He returned to Tampa and I believe he worked for a year or two with his father at a Military academy/high school  (Bartow) his father had set up.  He began studying law at special summer school course at the University of Florida in 1929 and took miscellaneous courses (law offices, night school, LaSalle correspondence course) and passed the Florida State bar exam in 1930.

His father, my grandfather and namesake, Harry Porcher Baya, became a bankruptcy judge for the state of Florida and spent some time in Talahasse and Jacksonville  My grandfather Baya was born in Lake City, Florida, and his mother had died not long after he was born.  My grandfather was raised by maiden aunts in Jacksonville, Florida, while his father remained in Lake City, Florida, where, among other things he was the Mayor.   There was, and probably still is, a short Baya street in downtown Lake City.

My father went into law practice with his father and his brother, Joe in the First National Bank building in Tampa.  Joe eventually left the firm to start his own practice in nearby Tarpon Springs.  My father practiced law from 1930 until Nov, 1940 when his National Guard unit was activated.

He married my mother in 1935.  They had known each other since his freshman year at V.M.I. spring of when both were 16.  My father, George Emery Baya was born on September 11, 1907 and started VMI in the spring semester of his junior year of high-school.  That would be in the spring of 1924 and he would turn 17 in  September of that year. 

He also remained active in the Florida National Guard and was a Lt. Colonel when his unit was activated Nov, 1940.

My father was assigned to the 31st division, known as the Dixie division, in the Pacific and I believe he ended up on General Macarthur’s staff planning the invasion of Japan, though that is based more on stories he told me about the end of the war than anything I could find in his army records.

My father was on active duty in the U.S. Army from Nov of 1940 and I had always assumed he served in the Pacific theater from 1941 to 1945.  In reviewing the papers I found last night I found that he may have remained in the U.S. until Feb of 1944.  During those years he served in various positions in the Field Artillery of the 31st Division, including Battalion commander, S3 staff and G5 staff.   General Sumter L. Lowery of the 31st Division thought highly of him and mentored his career.   I met General Lowery when he was  probably in his 90’s in Tampa and I was at M.I.T.  He spoke very highly of my father.  I have a book he wrote consisting mainly of letters he sent to his daughter during the war.

Based on the papers I found it seems my father was assigned to the Pacific theater from Feb of 944 until December of 1945.  He served in these campaigns: New Guinea, Okinawa, and Korean army of occupation.  I recall that he told me that he helped plan the invasion of Okinawa. However, I also see that he was sent back to the states for “Army Navy Staff College” from June to December of 1944  (at least part of this was in Orlando, Florida, which I can remember, though I was barely 5).   Near the end of the war my father was transferred to the 10th division to the G3 planning group with the understanding that he would be promoted to Full Colonel.   That did not happen and the Pacific war ended, officially, on September 2nd, 1945.

When the war ended he returned to the states and had to make a choice between returning to Tampa to practice law or staying in the army.  I have a wonderful letter he wrote my mother discussing their future.  In it he stated that if he could get a regular army commission as a Lt. Colonel and a job that would let him be with his family, he would do that.

He was offered a position in the Pentagon helping draft bills to go through congress to provide a revised and permanent legal structure for the U.S. Military in the light of the many changes that had occurred during WWII.  Many of these were supported by temporary bills passed as needed during the war.   This sounded like an interesting project to him and accepted that assignment.  I believe he was the primary author of one of the major bills related to the new military.   I found some records of this via Googling his name.  I  have a large photo that my father treasured showing him and a group of other officers, mostly Generals, standing behind President Harry Truman as he signed the bill.  My father worked at the Pentagon from 1945 till 1950 when he was assigned to England.

My father told me that he had never intended to be a career army officer.  What happened was that each time he would finish one assignment they would offer him another that he found attractive.  He and mother thought it would be interesting to live in England and probably a good experience for Madge and me. 

He was looking forward to spending a few years in London, and probably a year or two in  France, before leaving the army to return to Tampa when he was given orders to the Army War College.  He liked school and this was an honor, and also meant that he might have a chance to become a General. The Army War College is a stepping stone for most officers who reached the rank of General.  My father had hoped to become a general and was disappointed that he did not do so.  However, the end of the war and the dominance of West Point generals worked against him in this goal.

Based on the letters I read I infer that my father was also considering the number of years he would need to serve in the army before being able to retire with the maximum retirement pay.  By the time he accepted the assignment to England this was down to nine years. 

As he completed his year at Carlisle Barracks he checked in with friends in the Pentagon to see if there was an assignment that would make him a General.  The only one they had was to become one of the senior officers in Korea overseeing the many U.S. Troops still there following the Korean war.  However this was “hardship” tour which meant that he could not take his family.  I would be entering 9th grade and Madge would be entering 10th and he did not want to be separated from us, or mother, for two or three years at this point in his life. 

He was thinking of leaving the Army when he was offered the position of chief of the U.S. Army mission to Venezuela. This was normally a three year assignment following  6 months learning Spanish at the U.S. Army Language school in Monterey, California.  My father took this job and we moved to Monterey in the fall of 1953 and to Caracas in February of 1954.  My father extended his tour in Caracas by six months, mainly, I think, so that I could finish my last year of high school there.

In the fall of 1957 my father was assigned as commander of the Georgia Military district based in Atlanta.  This was a command position and he wore a commander’s green stripes on  his shoulders.  A full Colonel in the U.S. Army wearing commander’s stripes, and the U.S.Army General Staff badge was, I like to think,  treated with great respect on sight when in uniform.

My father stayed in Atlanta till he retired in 1962.  During that time I was at M.I.T. and Madge ended up attending, and graduating from Georgia Tech in Atlanta. 

Unfortunately near the end of his career there was a reorganization and the Atlanta office took on additional responsibility under a General and my father stopped wearing his command stripes.  He was approaching retirement and was only a little troubled by this.

When we lived in Atlanta my mother’s double first cousin, Whyndam White, and his family lived there.  Whyndam had been a senior at V.M.I. when my father was a freshman ( his “rat” year) and Whyndam was one the best know football players in V.M.I. history.  He later played pro football for a few years.  Whyndham had a  daughter, Sydney, who was born the same day and year as me and she, Madge and I became good friends and often spent time together.

After my father retired he and mother moved in with his mother, Jessie (nee Elva Jessie Bending) in 2009 Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa and they remained there until their deaths.   Madge lived with them for about ten years before moving in with her life partner, Susan. After Grandmother died they had the house redone and moved into a large bedroom and bath downstairs.   I visited many times and the house was a kind of social center for my generation.  We often played bridge, or other board games, did jig saw puzzles and spend time together using that house as a center activities.  My experience was that my parents were greatly loved and appreciated by those who visited and that my parents very much enjoyed the company.

Mother helped raise her nieces, Sarah, Rosalie, Kay White,  and Harriet Gwathmey.  My cousins and their friends formed a kind social circle and I loved visiting Tampa during those hears.  I think mother had also played a significant role of some nephews whose mothers died when they were still in grade school, including Emery Baya, Henry and George Glover and Markham Alexander.

My mother died, unexpectedly, in 1981.  My father married  Pat  ?? around 1985 and they were together till he died in 1987.

After he retired from the army in 1962 he opened a law office a mile or so from the house and worked off and on there.  I don’t think he tried to make much money and mainly helped friends with things like wills, estates and property contracts.   He also assisted his brother, Harry, with the legal work related to the houses built and sold by the Harry Baya Construction Company.

Though my father had, in my mind, an impressive military career and a full and interesting life, I believe he was somewhat bothered by his later years when his peers who had returned to Tampa after the war had mostly become successful and wealthy and he and mother could not live at their social level. Also, some of his best friends from Tampa who had been in the army with him died shortly after my father returned to Tampa.  Offsetting this some was the fact that his brother, Harry, and his first wife, Tillie, and second wife, Gregory, lived in the house next to 2009 Bayshore Blvd and they got along well over the years.

In spite of being a little dry and what you would expect from a Colonel in the army, my father was basically a happy person and quite social.  He was somewhat an intellectual  and, like me, had few people he could have “intellectual” discussion with.   The only one that comes to mind was his cousin (2nd or 3rd) Florence Hosch who lived with her husband, Louis, in Clearwater.  They had wonderful conversations and I would sometimes participate.    Florence and Louis were the only members of the Baya family, other than my parents and Midge, to attend my wedding to Bonnie.  I think this was maily because Bonnie and I did not get married in the Catholic church.  Florence, like me, was on the agnostic/atheist end of the religious spectrum.

Here are some links to a letter and a humorous certificate from the ship he took back after the war.

Letter to my mother, Madge:                               International Dateline Certificate