BEAVERCREEK — Baylor Kirk has many items commemorating his three years in the United States Navy.
He has a hat. His medals. A photo of the ship on which he served. Portraits of him in uniform. And he even has an old lantern he used as an electrician.
But carefully matted down and safely stored behind a glass frame hanging on a bedroom wall is his prized possession — the actual American flag flown high above the USS Loy as he and hundreds of others assigned to the ship fought for freedom in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
“It’s pretty beat up and tattered and torn,” the 93-year-old Beavercreek resident said. “(But) it reminds me of the times back in 1944 to 1946. It was like a family.”
Kirk was given the flag by his boss on the ship and has brought it to the annual reunions the shipmates hold. Last year just four attended.
“They’re either sick or they have died,” Kirk said. “We try to keep in contact when we can … trying to bring back memories of the things that happened.”
Some things he would rather forget.
Kirk was drafted and served as an electrician aboard Buckley-class destroyer escort where he saw the Battle of Okinawa.
“It wasn’t too good,” Kirk said of the battle. “That’s where the kamikazes were hitting us. We shot down five.”
One of the planes hit the ship, wounding around 15 and killing a couple, while shrapnel made holes above the water line. Another exploded before hitting its target, saving the USS Loy from total destruction.
That was about as bad as it got during the 16-month stint in the Pacific. Kirk also spent 13 months in the Atlantic on convoy duty.
“We were to keep the U-boats (German military submarines) from getting into the convoy,” Kirk said.
Kirk showed off the aforementioned flag and some of the items as he prepared to take them to the National Museum of the United States Air Force for its special Veterans Day programming. He and other veterans were already recognized Nov. 10 at Shaw Elementary School in Beavercreek, where his great-grandson Hunter Bailey attends.
“It’s nice,” Kirk said. “It was real great. Some of (the students) were giving me high fives.”
Kirk seems to get a hero’s welcome wherever he is.
“I can go anywhere,” he said. “I’ve got a Navy cap. They’ll see my cap (and say) ‘thanks for your service.’ I see it more and more. We go to pay the bill, someone’s already paid it. It makes me real proud that people are appreciative.”
Added Kirk’s wife, Clarice: “It amazes me, the young kids that come up to him.”
Kirk doesn’t mind the attention. He is a people-person at heart.
“I care about people,” he said. “I like people I guess.”
That’s why, since retiring from the Frigidaire division of General Motors in 1990, he has volunteered wherever and whenever he can. He has spent 10 years at the Air Force Museum, where he has logged more than 3,000 hours. Kirk meanders around and answers questions visitors may have.
The most popular inquiry … “Where’s the restroom,” Kirk said with a laugh.
He also volunteers at Soin Hospital in Beavercreek, manning the information desk and making sure people get to the right place at the right time. He honed that skill in the navy, because as a non-smoker and non-drinker, he could be counted on to keep tabs on his shipmates while they were on leave.
“They always want me to go with them,” Kirk said. “They wanted to booze it up. They knew I’d get them back to the ship on time. And I got to eat whatever I wanted (as repayment).”
But at the same time, Kirk wasn’t always in his shipmates’ good graces. One night when some of the boys were loudly shooting dice, Kirk was trying to get a quick nap before his shift. He knew how to handle it.
“Being an electrical, I knew where the electrical panel was,” he said. “I’d sneak down where the electrical panel was and I’d pull the switch to the upstairs. You’d hear all the cussing.”
Those were two of Kirk’s more tame stories. But the world may never hear the rest.
“I could think of one or two, but I better not go into it,” he said with a laugh.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.
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