Historical records sum up the life of Howard Fritz Baumgarten through three labels: orphan, seaman, KIA (killed in action) … all before his 22nd birthday.
Little else is known of Baumgarten. I only became aware of him because of a Google alert for the “Buckner Orphans Home,” where Baumgarten resided for a portion of his childhood. The website MilitaryHallOfHonor.com documents every U.S. military veteran, alive or deceased, including Howard Fritz Baumgarten.
According to Baumgarten’s record on the website, he was born in Texas around 1921. His birthdate is unknown, the town is unknown, and it’s unknown who his parents or siblings were. His legal guardian was Dr. Gordon Stewart Taylor, the dean of boys at the Buckner Orphans Home during the 1930s and 1940s.
While I haven’t had a chance to confirm Baumgarten’s residence at Buckner Orphans Home through our paper records, it is a safe assumption based on Dr. Taylor appearing as his guardian. Dr. Taylor was one of the most popular caregivers at Buckner for many years.
Baumgarten enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939 where he achieved the rank of petty officer third class. After two years in the Navy, primarily stationed in San Diego and Pearl Harbor, he departed for the Philippines. One week later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
On March 1, 1942, less than three months after the U.S. entered WWII, Petty Officer Baumgarten’s ship, the USS Edsall was attacked and sunk. He was listed as missing in action – a designation later changed to presumed dead. His remains were never recovered.
So why am I writing about Howard Fritz Baumgarten – orphan, seaman, KIA?
On the occasion of Veterans Day, I want to breathe life into Baumgarten’s story so he has a legacy beyond his military record. It is important for us to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom as well as those who continue to.
In 2000, alumni from the Buckner Orphans Home published "The Orphan Chronicles," a book full of short stories and essays about some of their memories of the children’s home.
I wonder what Baumgarten’s chapter would have been had he been alive to write it. Would he look back fondly on his time at Buckner? Did he play on the varsity football team and win a district title? Or did he focus on learning a trade like farming or barbering?
My father served in the U.S Marine Corps, while I served as a reserve chaplain in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. Service to others is part of my family’s legacy. It’s what set me down my path as a pastor and then president and CEO of Buckner International.
Orphan. Seaman. KIA. That is not Baumgarten’s legacy. While we don’t know who his parents were, we know he had them at some point. And while we don’t know who his friends were at Buckner, it’s easy to assume he must have made a few.
One of the most moving traditions during Veterans Day and Memorial Day is the placing of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, honoring those who have fallen for our nation but whose names and locations were not known and whose remains have perished forever.
While Seaman Baumgarten’s life may be a mystery to us today, I’m grateful he is now known to us. We have the opportunity to remember him by name.
We impact everyone we meet, whether as a ripple or a wave. I still feel my father’s impact, as I hope my sons feel mine. And by writing about Howard Fritz Baumgarten and his time at Buckner Orphans Home, his service to his country and his death at sea, I now feel his impact in my heart.
I will remember him. Will you remember him too?