What's your tonic?
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Charles Baker, Barksdale Officers' Club bartender, prepares a drink for a customer Aug. 27. Charles has been a part of Barksdale for more than 60 years and has met hundreds of foreign and domestic pilots and service members. Charles is famous for his long history here and his keen memory of an Airman's favorite drink. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Amber Ashcraft) (RELEASED)
Serving up good conversations for 60 years

by Senior Airman Amber Ashcraft
2d Bomb Wing Public Affairs

9/1/2010 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Tucked into the back of the Barksdale Club is a little bar that opens a few nights a week. An Airman will notice a placard that reads, "Charles Baker's Bar" and a tall, older gentleman, slipping into a vest covered with military pins and a few general stars.

Charles W. Baker, 79, was a part of Barksdale for more than 60 years and saw several generations of Airmen come through. From headquarters standing up and deactivating to the Army Air Corps transitioning into today's Air Force.

Charles, who was 16 at the time, saw the Air Force become an independent branch of service on Sept. 18, 1947. Barksdale Field would become Barksdale Air Force Base in January 1948, and the young man would begin his "training" to become a bartender at Barksdale's newest Officers' Club.

Charles began working as a janitor at the "beer bar" on Barksdale Field in 1946. While history transitioned its military services, Charles would be introduced to the pilots and servicemen that were a part of units being formed, organized and reassigned to front-line operational bases.

As the base's fleet of aircraft bombers and crew grew, so did Charles' knowledge of bartending and military rank.

"The bar leader at the time, taught me two drinks a night," said Charles. "Back then, the 275 drinks I learned how to make were just the standard, and we catered to making those drinks for the pilots."

Within the next few years of working at Barksdale, Charles became the bar leader and met hundreds of officers, foreign and domestic, and heard their stories of being overseas and flying. With an ease for conversation, he was able to vicariously live through the Airmen's anecdotes while learning their favorite drinks.

When asked if the rumor was true that he can memorize anyone's drink the first time they order, Charles smiled widely and said, "It's a pleasure to make someone happy, so it's only natural to remember what makes them so."

The base began to change steadily as the years went by, and Charles' keen memory enabled him to remember a young officer's drink as he flew through Barksdale, yet again.

Charles remembered the day that Barksdale became the headquarters of the Second Air Force in 1949, and later in 1975, when the 2d AF was deactivated and became the headquarters for the "mighty" Eighth Air Force. In 1963, the 2d Bombardment Wing moved to Barksdale and took control of the B-52, the first of which he remembers seeing arrive in the late spring of 1963, and KC-135 aircraft and an influx of new pilots and Airmen assigned to the wing.

"He's the walking history book," said retired Major Ed Sanders, who met Charles in 1952 while he was stationed at Barksdale. "Back in that day and age, the club was hard to get into, it being full of people all the time. We were all sharing a part of history over a drink, and Charles was right there sharing history with us."

In May 1992, Barksdale hosted a visit by two Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers, an An-124 "Condor" transport and 58 Russian Airmen.

"I think the Russians were some of my favorite foreign visitors," Charles said. "We used to talk about many things, but they would always joke about American alcohol not being strong enough. Well, I gave them a double shot of 151 rum, and I don't believe they've had an issue with my drinks since."

With the history of the 2d Bomb Wing nearly as old as that of American air power itself, both the wing and Charles have had an impact on Barksdale history.

"Charles has seen lieutenants at their youngest and then again when they're retiring as full bird colonels," Mr. Sanders said. "We all know a bit about Barksdale history, but he lived and witnessed it, right from the beginning."

While in high school, Charles was a part of the Navy Reserves; however, he was never activated and decided to continue working at Barksdale because of the great Air Force leadership and Airmen he encountered. He was able to acquire more than 5,000 pins, buttons and coins from American and foreign officers, chiefs and government scale employees and of course, dozens of memories.

"If I had the chance to go back and change anything, I wouldn't," said Charles. "I would do the exact same things and become the same person. I've been very happy serving the Air Force, even if that meant just serving an Airman a drink and conversation."