Horace L. Baker got more out of the Book of Proverbs than most. But then, he put a lot into it.
Baker, a native Monroe Countian, fought in World War I and kept a “diary” of his experiences in a copy of the Book of Proverbs he received from the YMCA. In this, he made so brief an account of what he saw that it would have no meaning to the Germans if he were captured.
After his return home, he wrote a book of his war experiences, “Argonne Days.” The book was published in 1927, printed by The Aberdeen Weekly. It was a limited publication, said his daughter, LaVerne Baker Prince, mostly for friends, relatives and his “soldier buddies.” One copy ended up in the library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where it was discovered by Robert H. Ferrell, professor emeritus of history at Indiana University in Bloomington. Ferrell is the author or editor of many books, including “Collapse at Meuse-Argonne.”
Already having an interest in World War I, Ferrell was drawn to Baker’s little book, so much so that he took on the task of getting it republished, this time in hardback, “Argonne Days in World War I.” A copy of that book was donated last week to the Evans Memorial Library, which also has a copy of the original publication. Baker’s daughter, Prince, made the presentation of the new book to the library. Jack Bird was also along for the presentation. Bird had seen an item in the newspaper a while back from Ferrell, who was looking for anyone who knew about Horace Baker. Bird gave Ferrell information about Prince, who lives in Tupelo. What he wanted was permission to republish the book.
“It is a remarkable story,” said Prince, a graduate of Aberdeen High School, “that a book published in 1927 would be redone 80 years later. I was a little surprised at first. That was just Daddy’s little book. I didn’t think it would ever have a larger readership than friends and family. I was pleased and said please do republish it.”
In September she said she was making a trip by AmTrak, stopped in Kansas City and visited the World War I museum. She saw lots of books with Robert Ferrell’s name on them. “I said then, it’s for real,” she said. “Up to that time, it had just been talk.”
Baker was born in Greenwood Springs and finished high school in 1913 in Amory, salutatorian of the second graduating class at Amory. He then started teaching in 1914 and was drafted at 25 to serve in World War I. After the war, he came back to Monroe County where he taught again. Baker donated land for the Greenwood Springs school after the original school, Quincy Chapel, burned. Fire plagued the school, because the new one also burned later. In addition to teaching, Baker also served as superintendent of education. His daughter said he also was historian of the American Legion, visiting cemeteries all over the county, making sure that veterans’ graves were marked. He wrote poetry, mostly religious in nature and was a Methodist Sunday school teacher.
In the 1930s, he serialized in the Aberdeen Examiner a history of the 32nd Division, in which he had served, called “The Trail of the Red Arrow.” During World War II, Baker took to writing again in the Aberdeen Examiner, which published his column, “Military Monroe,” about men from Monroe County serving in the military.
Baker was elected mayor of Aberdeen, but died before he was able to take office. Born in 1893, he died on March 9, 1948, after having spent the day teaching history at Hamilton High School. He left two daughters and two sons. Baker’s wife, Kellie Irvin, died the year after he did.
In the introduction to Baker’s republished book, Ferrell writes, “Argonne Days, by Horace Leonard Baker, is a masterpiece in the literature of American participation in World War I. Baker gives us the war as it was, conveying vividly what it meant to fight for one’s country in 1917-1918 in the rear ranks. It is the story of a private, not an officer.” The battle of Meuse-Argonne was fought in four attacks, beginning September 26 and ending on November 11, armistice. Ferrell said the battle engaged 1.2 million Americans, the most of any engagement by the U.S. Army in its years of fighting, and was by far the most deadly, with 26,277 men killed and 95,786 wounded. On editing the book, Ferrell said everything stands as Baker wrote it, except for minor changes of punctuation and a few factual corrections.
The book was published by the University of Missouri Press and is available at amazon.com. In descriptions of the book, one account said, “Many books have been written about General Pershing’s planning of the offensive; this one tells what happened to the soldiers who had to carry out his orders. Argonne Days in World War I is a masterpiece brimming with insight about the ordinary doughboys who fought in the European trenches. It conveys the spirit of a man who did his duty in a time of trouble and is a testament to the spirit shared by thousands like him.”
Also said of Baker’s book, “He shares his and his comrades’ thoughts about fighting in a harsh climate and terrain, relates their ongoing problems with short supplies, and tells how they managed to overcome their fears. It is a straightforward narrative that doesn’t glorify battle or appeal to patriotism yet conveys the horrors of warfare with striking accuracy.”