Decorated veteran is Berrien County’s first death connected to COVID-9
By Annette Christie
With the announcement of the first death from complications associated with COVID-19 coming out on Monday of this week, it was unknown that the victim would end up being a hometown decorated Vietnam Veteran from right here in Coloma.
Congressman Fred Upton announced the name on his Kitchen Table Update on Tuesday, March 31. Upton wrote, “For me it hit home even harder yesterday when I learned that a good friend and frankly, a hero in so many ways, passed away with this disease after being diagnosed only a couple of days prior.
“Bud Baker was probably the most decorated veteran that ever hailed from Berrien County. A Medal of Honor nominee, he was wounded more than a dozen times in Vietnam. He was a steady voice with the Lest We Forget Chapter of Veterans in Berrien County, served as a Chaplain at Lakeland Spectrum and was just about the nicest man one will ever meet who loved his country,” Upton said.
In a May 2010 article in the Herald-Palladium, Staff Writer Scott Aiken wrote about Baker receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, naming him the most highly decorated Vietnam War Veteran living in Berrien County. The award, the nation’s second highest military honor, was given to Baker for extraordinary heroism.
The medal citation reads: The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Walter L. Baker Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, 199th Infantry Brigade (Separate) (Light), Specialist Four. Baker distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on April 24, 1968 as a rifleman on a reconnaissance-in-force mission twelve-mile northeast of Bien Hoa when his company encountered an estimated battalion of well-entrenched North Vietnamese Regulars. His platoon was pinned down by intense enemy automatic weapons and rocket fire. Courageously moving through a hail of enemy bullets, Specialist Baker silenced one hostile emplacement with rifle fire. As he advanced toward a second bunker, he was wounded in the leg and back by an enemy sniper. As he lay on the battlefield, he saw communist troops setting up a machine gun on a trail facing his platoon. Ignoring his painful wounds, he assaulted the machine gun position, eliminating it with rifle fire and grenades. Despite seven additional wounds received during this attack, he succeeded in capturing the enemy position. He then called to his comrades to follow him. As they advanced, he used the captured machine gun to lay down a heavy base of fire on the North Vietnamese. Only after he had shown members of his platoon the location of other hostile emplacements did he allow himself to be evacuated. His valiant actions allowed his comrades to move into the bunker complex and completely rout the aggressors from their positions.”
Aiken described Baker’s war-time action, but noted that he had been shot in the chest, arm and leg – 13 times altogether. As he was being written up for his distinguished actions, Baker noted that two soldiers risked their lives to reach him, another put down covering machine gun fire, and another gave blood for a transfusion in the field. Aiken said Baker spoke with reverence of the men who saved his life and all of those he served with. He was even quoted as saying that the medal was not his, “It’s for everyone who ever put on a uniform and lost their lives.”
Following his service to his country, as Upton noted, Baker continued serving others as a chaplain at area hospitals, and with the Lest We Forget Berrien Chapter of Veterans. He was a mainstay on Memorial Day, proudly donning his uniform in communities all over Southwest Michigan.
From the battlefield to the football field, and many places in between, Baker has left his mark. His Facebook page was filled with comments honoring him and the wonderful experiences people have had with him.
“True definition of a godly, heartfelt, warrior.”
“He was a one of a kind, full of life, full of knowledge, full of courage and bravery.”
“The world lost a true hero today and we lost a great friend. Heaven gained one of the most incredible men we’ve ever got the chance to know.”
“Bud was a good man and he will be missed.”
Each year, Baker, grandfather to Watervliet High School Coach Bill Tiefenbach, spoke to the young Watervliet Panther football team to deliver a message of inspiration, grit, and tenacity.
High School English Teacher Sarah Brant recalls, “Bud could be found on the sideline of every game. Sharing his experiences as both a veteran and a man of faith, Bud served as an example for the younger generation. He was not only a role model, but a friend to each one of these boys, taking the time to connect to each on a personal level. Anyone who met Bud was his friend. He was a man of God, America, and a Panther through and through.”
Manny Guzman remembered Baker in a similar way, “I remember the first time I met Bud was the first day of practice on the field our 2017 year. He had us all in his own little huddle and told us, ‘you guys are going to have a great season, you guys are special, each and every one of you’. He was right. He never missed a game, and we went on to have a perfect season. He never failed to make you smile. Bud was a person I looked up to.”
Darlene Frantz recalls the times when Bud would help her and pray with her when her husband Jerry was ill. “I went to school with him and he helped Jerry and I out a lot when Jerry was sick. He was such a great help and one heck of a guy.” Darlene said that Jerry, also a Vietnam Veteran had served in the same part of Vietnam in the same year that Bud did. “He is such a great help to Veterans and everyone who knew him, loved him,” Darlene said.
In Upton’s message Tuesday he noted, “What is also so sad, is because of the current restrictions, we cannot personally give the final salute and hear the Taps and the Gun Salute he so deserves. His picture from a past Memorial Day parade has sat on my desk for years. We will all miss him dearly.”
The joint press release put out by the Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland stated that the person who died was a male over the age of 70 who was hospitalized at Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph. It went on to say that the gentleman did have serious underlying health conditions.
“On behalf of the entire Spectrum Health Lakeland team, our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of this individual,” said Loren B. Hamel, MD, president Spectrum Health Lakeland.
Berrien County Health Officer Nicki Britten stated, “This is a tragic loss of life and we share our heartfelt condolences with the family.”
Extraordinary times bring extraordinary measures; emergency responders prepare for the worst of COVID-19
By Teresa Smithers
With the COVID-19 virus now in our area, local emergency services are setting up special procedures to keep staff and patients safe while still providing the essential services we all need.
Hartford Family Dentistry
Hartford Family Dentistry, along with other dental offices, per the state mandate, is closed and only seeing emergencies. “We have donated many of our PPEs to the hospital and we are seeing emergencies as needed to try to keep them out of the ERs as well,” said Seth Griffin, DDS, of Hartford Family Dentistry. “We’ll survive and Dentistry will come back and continue to take great care of our patients.”
North Berrien Fire Rescue
North Berrien Fire Rescue, which does not have a medical response unit, has not made major changes, but has suspended firefighter training for the present, and has closed the station. They will respond to calls wearing more PPE (personal protective equipment) than before. North Berrien Fire Chief Mike Maddox says, “Stay home, stay safe – we’ll get through this!”
Cook Nuclear Plant / AEP
Like most other businesses, Cook Nuclear Plant, in addition to adhering to recommended sanitization practices, are currently employing all practical methods of social distancing and have moved employees not considered essential for daily operation out of the plant’s protected area to minimize exposure risk to critical employees.
“Although it is considered highly unlikely,” states Communications Manager Bill Downey, “we have also completed, and are prepared to implement, a plan for fully sequestering critical employees on site, if it should become necessary. We stand ready to do whatever we must to safely keep the power flowing for our customers.”
Additionally, in this unprecedented time of crisis, it’s important we work together to help families, businesses and nonprofit organizations who are struggling to stay afloat. To that end, the American Electric Power Foundation, on behalf of Indiana Michigan Power is donating $240,000 in emergency funds to support basic human needs and help address the hardships faced by customers and communities across our Indiana and Michigan service territories.”
Pride Care Ambulance
Pride Care Ambulance personnel are preparing for the possibility that infected patients may call 911 and request ambulance transport to the hospital. The organization has recently provided enhanced training for its emergency responders on appropriate infection control measures including, PPE and safe work practices. When EMTs and paramedics respond to 911 calls for patients with flu-like symptoms, they will take extra precautions, including wearing a protective mask and gown or similar protective clothing as well as eye protection. The extra precautions are to protect staff and their families from contracting COVID-19 or other viruses.
They are also limiting the number of staff that makes contact with patients exhibiting non-life threatening COVID-19 symptoms. Their Facebook page states: “One can also expect that if a patient is judged to be stable and has a driver who could provide personal transportation, to receive a request to either transport the patient home and call their physician, or to take the patient to an adequate medical facility.” Of course, they state, they will always render care and transport patients if the injury or illness is of a severe nature that requires EMS attention, or if the patient has no other means of transport.
Watervliet Fire Department
Pride Care is not the only organization limiting staff. The Watervliet Fire Station is now staffed 24/7 with 2-person crews. “This will reduce exposure to just two people at a time, rather than 30,” explains Watervliet Fire Chief Dan Jones.
AROUND THE CLOCK… The Watervliet Fire Hall is now staffed 24/7 with 2-person crews as first responders. “This will reduce exposure to just two people at a time, rather than 30,” explains Fire Chief Dan Jones. (TCR photo by Teresa Smithers)
“Even if you believe it [the danger] is not true, at least take it seriously… for others’ sakes,” stated Jones. And he stands behind his words by working proactively to reduce exposure both by his staff and those they serve. When responding to calls, medics and firefighters arrive in full PPE, such as, masks, gloves, gowns, etc.
If you are in need of treatment, whenever possible they will treat a patient in place. If they can remain home, they are urged to do so. Infected persons who are otherwise healthy are encouraged to follow treatment at home. If there are underlying conditions (such as COPD) that could jeopardize a patient’s life, medics will make contact with physicians directly to see if someone should be transported.
“These are stopgap measures that we have in place for identifying and assessing people,” Chief Jones explains. If things get worse, they will help to save a lot of lives.
Will things get worse before they get better?
When asked this, Chief Jones replied thoughtfully. “I have to believe science and numbers,” he said, “I am an eternal optimist, but it looks like things will get worse before they get better. Regardless, these are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary measures.”
The Watervliet Fire Station sign sums it up neatly: “Stay safe, stay healthy, stay inside.”
Many restaurants in the Tri-Cities area offering takeout services
By Nancy Albright The pandemic has hit the global economy hard, from multi-billion-dollar corporations down to your favorite local joint, and many restaurants in the Watervliet – Coloma – Hartford area are offering takeout options to keep serving customers. There are dozens of restaurants in the Tri-Cities serving up good food to go – too many to cover – so check out Facebook, websites, or give a call. Some have temporarily closed their doors but give a shout anyway to make sure, and if they’re not open, check out a menu at a place you haven’t tried yet.
While in quarantine, think pizza! Craving Italian? Saylor’s Main Street Pizzeria in Watervliet is serving takeout 2:00-8:00 p.m., and DiMaggio’s in Coloma is still making pies and their full menu to go. Hartford’s Gala-T-Inn is still throwing dough and serving up specials as well. Gala-T’s motto? “While in quarantine, think pizza!” Roma Pizza and The Pour House in Coloma are also slinging pies daily. Pizza Hut in Coloma is open for carryout, curbside pickup and contactless delivery.
To-Go options in Coloma Coloma has many to choose offering To-Go options, curbside and some Grubhub. Stop in and visit Mike at Mike’s Pit Stop, 6-6 Mon-Fri, and Sat 8am-12. Soulard’s is open daily also with coffee and sandwiches. Hot-Spot is offering curbside from 8-2, Mon–Thu, and 8-8 on Friday. Hub Central in Coloma is open seven days a week and still serving up Italian on Fridays, as well as their traditional Friday Fish Fry. Hub customers will receive a free t-shirt with their meals on Tuesdays and a free roll of toilet paper on Thursdays.
Arclight Brews available in Watervliet Arclight Brewing Company in Watervliet is still brewing and pre-released a new brew last weekend called Epsicle—a Milkshake India Pale Ale brewed with Orange, Vanilla, and milk sugar. They are offering curbside pickup and filling only new, clean growlers to expedite service and keep contact minimal. They also recommend 16 oz. cans as a good to-go option.
Tri-City area Subways, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Chicken Coop are open for takeouts The Subway in Coloma is open, and customers can walk in to order and pick up. They are following social distancing orders and have taped the floor every six feet to help keep their customers safe. The Hartford Subway location is still doing drive-through, and Watervliet Subway is open for takeout. McDonald’s in Coloma and Hartford are open for drive through orders and curbside pickup through their ordering system. Burger King and Taco Bell are also offering drive-through service.
Eddie’s take out & delivery Customers can call for takeout and use the walk-up window at Eddie’s Drive-In in Coloma Township, and Eddie’s is still delivering. Owner Charlie Holloway is grateful to local customers for their support and says they will stay open as long as they can. “We’re taking it day by day. We’ve been open for 23 years and so far we’re keeping the lights on.” Charlie has retained all but two of his staff. For safety reasons, he asked those two staff members, who have pre-existing conditions, to take a hiatus. He plans to give them their jobs back when all is well once again.
LaChula Mexican Market offers take out & veggies LaChula Mexican Market in Watervliet is offering takeout and customers can still go in for groceries. According to Maria Salguero, they are still receiving shipments of fresh vegetables on a regular basis. Don’t forget to eat your vegetables! In Coloma, El Asadaro and Dairy Queen are also open.
Sidetrack II customer cleaned his cash with bleach Sidetrack Café II in Watervliet is offering takeout and curbside service, and look for them on Grubhub, which is still delivering. “We’re keeping our doors open. A little bit is better than nothing,” said owner Michelle Edmonds. “I feel like if we close it could be the end. We’re taking all the precautions we can. We’re constantly sanitizing and being very careful with cash.” One customer, who has been eating at Sidetrack for 30 years, withdrew cash directly from the bank and used bleach wipes to clean the bills before he paid for his order. “We have a strong customer base and appreciate everyone’s support,” said Michelle. “We understand if people aren’t ordering, everyone is in the same boat, but we still feel the love.”