SITKA — Dennis Baker knew exactly where he wanted to go when he left thae Oosterdam ferry for the short boat ride to Sitka on Thursday.
In Alaska for the first time, along with his girlfriend Norma Jean Harstvedt, Baker walked over to Centennial Hall, where a World War II Navy uniform worn by his father is the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Sitka Historical Museum.
Owen Baker was a seaman first class who served on the USS Sitka, a navy attack transport ship.
The reunion with the service dress blue uniform, known as a “crackerjack,” was an emotional one for Dennis, himself a Navy veteran.
The uniform had hung in the “military room” of his Florida home for 25 years, alongside his own Navy uniform.
But about a year ago, Baker, 57, decided to “downsize,” his euphemism for getting rid of his belongings, selling his house and hitting the road in a Toyota Highlander.
He knew he had to part with his father’s uniform, and wanted to find a fitting place for it to rest.
He got on the internet and quickly found the Sitka Historical Museum. Neither Baker nor his father had ever been to Alaska, but Baker said his father knew of Sitka and its connection to the “attack transport” ship he had served on in the Pacific during the 1940s.
Baker made a call to Sitka. He had good timing. That day, in the summer of 2010, museum staff members were involved in a discussion about how to expand their collection. They needed a World War II Navy uniform.
Prior to sending the uniform north, Baker said he laid it out on a bed in his home to “spend one last night with it.”
He told his mother he had found a home for it, brushed off the uniform, “molded the hat and straightened the neckerchief.”
“We both knew that he was going to live on forever for many to see, his spirit within,” Baker wrote in an article for a newspaper in the upstate New York community where he grew up, and where his mother still lives. “The choice to let him go early was a wise one as he will be looked at every day, not stowed in the dark, alone.”
The next day, Baker put the uniform in the mail, along with medals, a boatswain pipe and a few other items.
When Jacqueline Fernandez took over as the museum curator in February she inherited the Baker project, which had hit a standstill.