A small sampling of the 95+ veterans who live at Christian City reveals the diversity among the brave men and women who chose to serve their country in the United States Military in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. While the paths of their lives and their military service differ, these veterans share a common thread in their choice to live in retirement at Christian City. They are a blessing to our community, and we salute them every day, but especially on Veterans Day.
Four Christian City residents were interviewed for this tribute article. They were raised in Illinois, South Carolina, New York and Atlanta. They served in the Army, Navy and Air Force during World War II and the Vietnam War. One served two tours in Vietnam while another was on the maiden voyage of the U. S. Navy’s first nuclear light cruiser off the coast of Vietnam. One was trained as an aircraft mechanic while another worked with a Princeton University physicist to develop a radar bombing camera system for the B-29 bomber.
Jack Baker, son and grandson of ordained Methodist ministers, was born in Missouri and raised primarily in Illinois. After high school graduation, he attended The University of Tennessee for one year before deciding to enlist in the Air Force in 1956, serving four years at Craig Air Force Base in Alabama. His training as a jet aircraft mechanic led to a 31-year career at Delta. Jack and his wife, Sara, have lived at Autumn Place at Christian City for 13 years. They celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this year. The Bakers have a daughter, son and two grandchildren.
“We did our kids a favor,” Jack said. “They won’t have to worry about what to do with our house.”
The Bakers lived in a large home in Riverdale for 38 years before moving to Christian City. Volunteering is important to the couple. Jack serves as the chaplain for both the American Legion Post 50 in Peachtree City and with the Sons of the American Revolution. On campus, both he and Sara volunteer around the campus where needed. Whether it’s stuffing envelopes for a mailing or baking desserts for the Chair-ity fundraiser, the volunteer duo is dedicated to serving in the community they call home.
“Christian City is a practical place to be in retirement,” Jack said. “People here are so good about looking out for one another.”
When asked what advice he has for others, Jack said, “Be satisfied with who you are and where you are.”
Donald Reese, Army veteran and John Sparks Manor resident, agrees. After moving to Christian City from downtown Atlanta, Don is enjoying the slower pace and peaceful environment here. “God gave me this time, and I’m going to enjoy it,” he said.
Don likes to spend time outdoors sitting under the shade trees with a good book or chatting with neighbors. “I try to help those that are less fortunate than myself,” he said.
Growing up in Atlanta, Don attended Booker T. Washington High, followed by two years at Morehouse College before enlisting in the Army. “Morehouse was good, but I needed more,” he said.
He enlisted in the Army, trained at Fort Benning, and served two tours in Vietnam, first with the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division, followed by a second tour with the 101st Airborne Division. He was awarded four Bronze Stars for heroism in combat.
Recalling his combat experience in the central highlands around Cambodia and Laos, Don said, “There are no atheists on the battlefield. All call on God when in battle.”
Also a resident in John Sparks Manor, Richard Waldrop, admires Reese for his combat service and agrees that Christian City is the place to be in retirement. He moved here two years ago. The youngest of his siblings and without children of his own, Richard looked for a place where he would be well taken care of for the remainder of his life.
“It’s the people at Christian City that make it a great place – the residents and staff are happy to talk to you and care about you,” he said.
Richard was raised in upstate South Carolina near the North Carolina border, where beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains were part of everyday life. “I grew up in God’s country,” he said.
Richard’s father died young at age 40, leaving his mother to raise three children. She was a career church worker, serving as youth director in several churches and as a Dean of Spartanburg Methodist College.
Richard attended Wofford College before enlisting in the Navy in 1962. He served in active duty reserves for seven years followed inactive reserves for 23 years. At Yankee Station where all supply ships and carriers anchored at sea just out of range of North Vietnamese fighters, Richard was a personnel man working in the ship’s office processing new recruits. Most memorable today is his experience serving on a brand new ship, the first light cruiser in the Navy armed with nuclear missiles launched from cannons by jet power.
Following his active duty service, Richard had a long career in sales. “I’m a better person than I’ve ever been, but I’m not there yet. I’ve been given a great life, and I want to give back,” he said.
Sharing many of the same sentiments about life at Christian City is 96-year-old Hilltop Acres resident and veteran Harry Davis. Born in 1920 outside Buffalo, New York, Harry is quick to point out his rather unique role in the military.
“I didn’t shoot a gun. I shot a camera,” Harry said. His fascination with cameras and photography began during childhood. At age 14, he took a picture of a lion at the zoo and won first place in a photography contest. His uncle gave him a box camera for Christmas and he got involved in a camera club at the Buffalo Museum of Science.
After earning a degree in photographic technology from Rochester Institute of Technology, Harry enlisted in the Army in 1943, followed by Air Force flight training in Florida. While stationed in Salina, Kansas, Harry was called on to work with a physicist from Princeton University to modify a B-29 to house seven radar scopes in the aircraft wing. He designed two cameras with clocks to match radar images with ground images, which were in production and used by the military for 20 years. While stationed in Saipan, Harry created a radar mosaic of Japan that was utilized by bombardiers to develop advance targets and increase effectiveness of their bombs.
Harry moved to Atlanta in 1980 and to Christian City in 1999. His family – two daughters, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren – are scattered from coast to coast.
“Christian City is a good location for me to live out my retirement,” Harry said.
His previous home in Union City had a large lawn that took two days to mow. While he was not eager to leave his home workshop where he built furniture as a hobby, Harry does not miss the maintenance responsibilities of a big home.
“The best thing about Christian City is not having to cut grass,” he said.