CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
“Put! Put, put! Put!”
Imitating the sound of the Curtiss Condor’s engines failing, the 98-year-old man mimics the rumbling motions of the aircraft falling from the sky. His hands rush to his shoulders as if grabbing for a parachute’s straps he and the other 40 Marines on that plane had been wearing
“I thought, ‘This is it,’ and then all of a sudden, brrrr!” he describes the sound of the engines kick starting, as he sinks into the back of the couch with relief while sighing through a grin.
“That’s the most scared I ever was, and I love to fly,” smiled Frank Baron Jr., a Marine who served as an airplane rigger during a turning point of Marine aviation.
Baron’s love for the Marine Corps was sparked in Glen Burnie, Md., where he was born April 18, 1914.
“I liked the Marines. I’d known them from the time I was just a kid,” Baron explained. He grew up three blocks from a range where Marines would qualify for their annual weapons training.
There was no grass, only leaves from the trees, Baron described the training grounds. He would often visit and ask the Marines if they wanted anything from the commissary.
“‘Yeah, get me a pack of cigarettes,’ or ‘Get me some soda pop’, or this or that,” he said the Marines told him, in a forced, gruff voice, pulling his eyebrows together. “I’d get it, and they’d give me a nickel or a dime.”
These experiences inspired his trip to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C. in 1933, which marked the beginning of his four-year enlistment in the Marine Corps.
Baron’s first assignment as a military police officer was spent in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the Caribbean country of Haiti.
Baron and his friends, after standing guard at the Presidential Palace, would go to the Gonaives Bay where they would dive from a five-story-tall platform into the surrounding water.
“We would climb up, and dive off like swans,” Baron chuckled at the memory. “We would be up there looking down and about a block from us, there were sharks.”
Daily, the blood from butchered animals would run into the bay, and that’s why the sharks came, Baron stated nonchalantly.
After nine months in Haiti, Baron was briefly brought back to Parris Island before being sent to San Diego, Calif.
Upon arrival to San Diego, Pvt. Baron said he saw the military pilots flying and immediately requested a transfer.
“I’ve always enjoyed being around planes,” Baron exclaimed as his eyes lit up with excitement. “When I was a kid, planes used to fly over, and we would wave. You’d never believe it, but they would wave back!” While sharing this memory, he stretched his thin arm above his head, waving his hand in the air.
In 1935 Baron was transferred to North Coronado Island, officially recognized by the House Armed Services Committee as the birthplace of Marine Corps Aviation.
“I was working in the wings section. We would pull the canvas over the wings and goop it up with sealant,” Baron spoke with pride as he made pulling and stretching motions with his hands simulating the repairs.
Every day after work, Baron said he would look for space availability flights. For the next two years, he would board flights for the pure joy of flying.The flights would go almost anywhere; from out over the ocean to down to the boarder of Mexico, Baron explained with a toothy, ear-to-ear grin.
Having four years worth of Marine Corps memories to look back on, Baron joined the San Diego fire department, and once his two granddaughters were born, he said he wanted to share his passion for aviation with them.
“When my sister and I were young, he would take us to the San Diego airport to watch the planes land and take off,” said Teri Juybari, one of Baron’s granddaughters. “We would watch for what seemed like hours, and as little kids, that was pretty exciting.”
This year, Marine Corps aviation is celebrating its centennial, which was made possible through the efforts and dedication of Marines like Baron.
The time he spent in the Marines and working on the planes he loved made such an impact on his life, said Juybari. After 75 years, Baron is still proud of being a Marine.