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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Edward Bigelow Baker, USN (Ret.)

March 23, 2022 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Edward Bigelow “Ted” Baker, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired), on 26 January 2022 at age 84. Rear Admiral Baker entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955 and served as a surface warfare officer until his retirement in 1993 as Assistant Deputy CNO for Plans, Policy and Operations (N3/N5B.) His commands included USS Bronstein (DE-1037), USS David R. Ray (DD-971), Destroyer Squadron THREE THREE (DESRON 33), and Amphibious Group THREE. He made two Vietnam War deployments as executive officer of USS Hoel (DDG-13) and in command of Bronstein.

Ted Baker came out of the blocks fast at a very young age, demonstrating leadership as elected safety patrol president in elementary school, earning his Eagle Scout merit badges in record time before he was 17, serving as student council president of Midland High School, and meeting President Dwight Eisenhower twice as an Order of Arrow recipient and Michigan representative to Boys State. 

Ted Baker took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy on 27 June 1955. As a midshipman, he lettered in track and field, was a midshipman battalion commander, and graduated with distinction with a bachelor’s degree in naval science. He was commissioned an ensign on 3 June 1959. 

Ensign Baker was then assigned duty under instruction with Commander Destroyer Squadron EIGHT (DESRON 8) staff. During this period, he served as first lieutenant aboard destroyer USS Hale (DD-642) just before she was decommissioned, and as assistant weapons officer aboard destroyer USS Myles C. Fox (DDR-829).  Myles C. Fox operated out of Newport, Rhode Island, and deployed to the Caribbean in response to a crisis between Cuba and the Dominican Republic just before the fall of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Selected as a Burke Scholar, Baker then reported to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) unit at the University of Michigan, where he was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in August 1960 and earned a master of science in physics in June 1962. 

In June 1962, Lieutenant (junior grade) reported to the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Center, Dam Neck, Virginia, for duty under instruction. In August 1962, he then reported as operations officer to destroyer USS Davis (DD-937), homeported in Newport. Davis was pulled out of a repair period in Boston due to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, arriving in time to participate in the Quarantine Line to ensure Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles did not double back after the crises had reached a negotiated end. Davis subsequently served as part of Task Group Bravo, centered on anti-submarine carrier USS Wasp (CVS-17), including covering the visit of President John F. Kennedy to Costa Rica. Lieutent (j.g.) Davis was promoted to lieutenant in June 1963.

In July 1964, Lieutenant Baker returned to the NROTC unit at University of Michigan for further study in operations research and was awarded an “MIE” (master’s degree in industrial engineering?). He was promoted to lieutenant commander in January 1967. In September 1967, Lieutenant Commander Baker was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as a member of the War at Sea (NOW) Study Group in the Systems Analysis Division (OP-96.) In October 1968, he reported to the Nuclear Weapons Training Center Pacific for duty under instruction, followed the next month by duty at Naval Schools Command, Mare Island, Vallejo, California. In December 1968, Lieutenant Commander Baker assumed duty as executive officer aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Hoel (DDG-13), deploying to the western Pacific in 1969 by way of Samoa and New Zealand. The ship suffered an in-bore explosion in gun mount 51, necessitating repair at Subic Bay. This was followed in December 1969 and early 1970 with operations escorting carriers at Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin and two periods providing naval gunfire support to U.S. Marines ashore in South Vietnam. Upon return from deployment, Baker reported to Anti-Submarine Warfare School, San Diego, for training.

In June 1970, Lieutenant Commander Baker assumed command of destroyer escort USS Bronstein (DE-1037, later re-designated FF-1037.) Bronstein operated with the ASW carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14) and carried out extensive testing with Bronstein’s QH-50 DASH (Drone ASW Helicopter). However, the DASH program was cancelled in 1969 and Bronstein deployed without it. Baker commanded Bronstein through work-ups, transit to the western Pacific, and during one period in the Gulf of Tonkin. His command tour was cut short due to the serious illness of his wife. He was briefly assigned in April 1971 to the staff of Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force Pacific as readiness and support services officer before being transferred to the Washington, DC, area so his wife could receive specialized experimental care at Johns Hopkins University Hospital for a brain tumor. In October 1971, he was assigned to the Office of the CNO as campaign analyst for the Sea Control Force Mix Study in OP-96. He was promoted to commander in November 1971. 

Selected as a Federal Executive Fellow, Commander Baker was assigned in August 1972 to the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. In September 1973, he was assigned as staff assistant to the military assistant to Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger. In August 1975, Commander Baker was assigned as a student at the National War College at Fort McNair, Washington, DC. His wife, Michel, passed away that September. After graduating from the War College, Commander Baker commenced a training track at the Surface Warfare Officer School, Newport, and then to the Pre-Commissioning Unit, Fleet Training Center, San Diego. In September 1977, Baker reported to Pascagoula, Mississippi, and became the first commanding officer of destroyer USS David R. Ray (DD-971) upon her commissioning in November 1977. After shakedown, David R. Ray transited the Panama Canal to her homeport in San Diego. She also became first ship to intercept a supersonic drone using the RIM-7 NATO Sea Sparrow missile system. In May 1979, Commander Baker returned to Systems Analysis Division (OP-96) again as branch head for General Purpose Forces. He was promoted to captain on 1 July 1979. 

In May 1982, Captain Baker assumed duty as executive assistant to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Robert J. Long. In August 1983, he reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC, for a training track before assuming command of Destroyer Squadron THREE THREE (DESRON 33), in Hawaii in January 1984. In June 1985, he reported to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet as assistant chief of staff for operations and as acting deputy chief of staff for operations and plans. 

In March 1986, Captain Baker was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. The same month he reported to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs), then headed by Richard Armitage. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 July 1987. 

In August 1988, Rear Admiral Baker assumed command of Amphibious Group THREE (COMPHIBGRU 3) in San Diego. During this period he was designated as deputy commander, Joint Task Force Alaska Oil Spill, leading the Navy’s efforts to assist in the clean-up of the massive oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, caused by the tanker Exxon Valdez. In April 1989, Baker was designated a rear admiral (two star) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 April 1990. In April 1990, Rear Admiral Baker was assigned to the Joint Staff J-5 as senior military representative to the U.S.–Philippines negotiation team led by Richard Armitage, which worked a renewal of the U.S. Philippines Base Access agreement. However, this was rejected by the Philippine senate in September 1991 and resulted in the closure of U.S. naval facilities in the Philippines, including Subic Bay and Cubi Point. In this position, Rear Admiral Baker testified before Congress on a variety of issues including Soviet actions in the Pacific, the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone, PRC–Taiwan issues, and POW/MIA issues. He contributed to “re-defining” the U.S.–New Zealand defense relationship (after New Zealand banned U.S. Navy port visits when the United States refused to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board), as well as strengthening the U.S.–Japan defense relationship. In April 1991, Rear Admiral Baker returned to the Office of the CNO as director of Strategy, Plans, Policy and Operations Division (OP-60.) In October 1992, he assumed duty as Assistant Deputy CNO, Plans, Policy and Operations (N3/N5B.) Rear Admiral Baker retired on 1 September 1993.

Rear Admiral Baker’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; Distinguished Service Medal; Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit (two awards); Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Navy Commendation Medal (two awards); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (two awards); Vietnam Service Medal (one bronze star); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (one bronze star); U.S. Coast Guard Special Operations Ribbon; and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (with device). 

After retiring from active duty, Rear Admiral Baker served as the executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and as associate dean for finance and administration at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

Services will be held on 8 July 2022 at Grace Church, Alexandria, Virginia, followed by interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rear Admiral Ted Baker served our Navy and nation with great dedication and distinction during some of the most momentous times of the Cold War, from participating in the naval quarantine following the Cuban missile crises, through the continual build-up of Soviet Navy capability and numbers in the 1960s and 1970s, to the culmination and end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union. Along the way, he deployed twice to the Vietnam War as executive officer and commanding officer of surface ships engaged in protecting the carriers of Task Force 77 in the Gulf of Tonkin and protecting U.S. Marines ashore by providing naval gunfire support. He displayed the inherent flexibility and can-do attitude of a senior naval officer in leading the clean-up of a massive oil spill, something not normally in a PHIBGRU commander’s portfolio. By his career path, he was clearly a serious strategic thinker, whose experience and insights were sought after at the highest levels of the Department of Defense, to include sensitive and contentious issues with the Philippines and New Zealand. He was known for his inspirational leadership, strong character, integrity, intellect, and Midwestern sense of humor (with an apparent affinity for bad puns). He led ships and squadrons to great performance through charm rather than fear. Although I normally do not discuss personal lives in these notes, the courageous fight of his first wife against a brain tumor is covered in his obituary, and serves as a reminder to us all of the sacrifices in family time that we take on in the service of our country, and of the need to try to maintain some semblance of balance in our lives, as difficult as that can be. No matter how good an officer may be, there are things beyond anyone’s ability to control. The Navy had the good grace to be flexible in assignments in his case. He displayed incredible fortitude in enduring such trauma and went on to serve in ways that truly made a difference to the safety and security of our nation. For that, our Navy and nation should be eternally grateful. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Baker.

(Note: RADM Baker’s obituary lists a Combat Action Ribbon, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Battle Efficiency Ribbon. and Navy Expeditionary Medal. These are not listed in the transcript of service nor do they appear in his 0-7 and 0-8 photos. It is possible that eligibility was determined after his retirement and therefore not reflected in the transcript. I've learned that the service transcript is not necessarily definitive when it comes to awards.)