A niece's research uncovers the stories of two uncles who served their country - Albuquerque Journal

A niece’s research uncovers the stories of two uncles who served their country

Daryl Mashke holds a drawing of her uncle, Max C. Baca, left, and a photo of another uncle, Max H. Baca. Max C. was killed in a crash of a B-29 bomber during World War II, and Mashke said Max H. apparently lied about his birth date and joined the Army at age 15 during World War I. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

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“We started climbing, but when we reached the cloud we did not have enough altitude to clear it. The pilot banked the ship sharply to the left when the cloud overtook us. It caused the ship to roll completely over. It started to roll a second time but only rolled us over on our back. Then we went into two inside loops. … I bailed out when the ship came out of its second loop. After the ship came out of its second loop, it went into its final dive. The ship did not break up until it was in this dive.”

That’s the eyewitness account of a crew member who survived when a U.S. B-29 bomber crashed in a storm in August 1944 while returning to its base in India after a combat mission over Japanese installations in China.

Daryl Mashke’s uncle, Max C. Baca, was the engineer on that plane. He did not survive.

“His body was never recovered,” Mashke said. “He is memorialized at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis along with the crew who died with him in India when he was with the B-29s of the 677th Bomb Squadron. He was awarded two Silver Stars for gallantry.”

A pair of Maxes

Seated in the living area of her Placitas home, Mashke – thumbing through books she has accumulated and flipping through neatly organized files she has compiled – tells the stories of two uncles, her mother’s brothers, one a veteran of World War I, the other the decorated World War II bomber crewman killed in the B-29 crash.

This family portrait, taken about 1934, shows the Baca family at their home on 1301 South Broadway. From left are father Maximilliano; daughter Amalia, brothers Max H., Juan and Max C.; and mother Delfinia. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

“They were both from the South Broadway neighborhood and both were named Max Baca,” Mashke said. “One, Max H., joined the Army at the tender age of 15 during World War I. The other, Max C., perished over the Hump (eastern Himalayas) while fighting the Japanese.”

Mashke, 68, is herself a Navy veteran, having served nearly 25 years before retiring with the rank of lieutenant. Her husband, Ken, is a Navy veteran of 22 years. Their home contains mementoes that document their military careers. But the years had whisked away her uncles’ chapters in a family history that dates back centuries in New Mexico.

“We go back to the Tomé land grants,” Mashke said of her mother’s family. Trying to recover her uncles’ much more recent history, however, proved a challenge.

“There was anecdotal information and family lore in my mother’s recollections, but not one of us had any concrete information,” Mashke said. “I started doing some research and uncovered a fascinating story about both of them.”

A bold lie

Max Herrera and Max Chavez Baca were half brothers. Their father, Maximilliano Baca, lived at 1301 South Broadway and operated a wood yard there to supplement his work in the shops of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

Max H. was born to Maximilliano and his first wife, Beatriz Herrera of Las Cruces, on May 3, 1902.

Max C., the son of Maximilliano and his second wife, Delfinia, was born in 1912. That union also produced another son, Juan, and a daughter, Amalia, who is Mashke’s mother. Amalia, 99, is still living.

The intriguing thing Mashke learned about her Uncle Max H. is that he seems to have lied about his age in order to join the Army in 1917.

Max H. Baca as a young man. Research suggests Max H. may have lied about his age in order to join the Army in 1917. “He was only 15,” niece Daryl Mashke said. She said Max H. was an avid photographer who loved talking and having his own picture taken. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

“He lied about his birth date,” she said. “He registered for the draft and his registration reflected he was born on March 10, 1896, which would have made him 21 in 1917. However, he was only 15.”

Mashke found a baptism certificate from San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town that shows that Max H. was baptized June 15, 1902, which supports the May 1902 birth date, as does a delayed birth certificate issued in 1946.

“It appears he did serve in the Army, although records of his enlistment have not been found,” Mashke said. “I don’t know much more about him, other than he returned to 1301 South Broadway after World War I and went to work as a cook at the Mecca Cafe on (214 West) Central.”

She said Max H. was an avid photographer who loved talking and having his own picture taken.

“I remember him most from the scent of his pipe tobacco,” she said. “He would always give us trinkets and small gifts or candy when we would visit. He lived in the Barelas area, and he died in the late 1970s.

“That was Max H. Max C. was the Pacific hero.”

Frightened warrior

“Of all the persons in Mom’s family, Max Chavez Baca was the most interesting to research,” Mashke said. “He was a World War II hero, and yet none of us really knew what his role in the war was.”

Her persistent research has corrected that to a large degree.

Max C., an Albuquerque High graduate, joined the Army Air Corps some time in the 1930s. Early on, he was stationed at March Field in California and served as a crew member on B-10 bombers. Later he was assigned to a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber with the 93rd Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bombardment Group and sent to Clark Field in the Philippines in November 1941.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese hit Clark Field and destroyed the B-17s on the ground there. But Max C. was with B-17s on maneuvers 350 miles south of Clark when the Japanese struck. In the ensuing weeks, he and his comrades engaged in a series of raids against the enemy as the Japanese advanced into the Philippines. In late December 1941, what remained of the 19th Bombardment Group was moved to Australia.

Daryl Mashke, who served with the Navy for nearly 25 years, looks at photos and memorabilia documenting her military service and that of other members of her family. She said she feels it is the often unsung, regular service men and women who should be remembered on Memorial Day. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

In December 1942, Max C., on furlough from the fighting around Australia, arrived in Albuquerque to visit his family. He declined in a newspaper interview to talk much about his war experiences, but the paper reported he was a member of the crew of one of the bombers which “reportedly sank a (Japanese) transport and put a destroyer out of commission” on July 30, 1942.

In August 1943, while Max C. was in Seattle to take advanced gunnery glasses, he attended a function to thank the Washington Credit Women’s Breakfast Club for war bond purchases that financed the building of bombers. A Seattle newspaper reported how Master Sgt. Max C. Baca, decorated for gallantry in action, was shot down by stage fright.

“On various missions between the Philippines and Australia, Baca and his fellow crewmen disposed of at least seven (Japanese) Zeros and hit scores of (Japanese) ships,” the newspaper article read. “But the handsome young New Mexico-Spanish aerial engineer and gunner was scared when he appeared at Victory Square. Mike fright afflicted him – and endeared him to the crowd which visibly loved each stammer and hesitation.”

Max C. apparently pulled himself together enough to tell the reporter about a mission over New Guinea on July 4, 1942. He said the B-17 Flying Fortresses “smashed” some bombers on the ground and some installations, but then Zeros, Japanese fighter planes, came up after the American bombers.

“It was dusk and the fire from the bullets made a lovely sight,” he said. “Two Forts were slightly damaged, four Zeros downed and two damaged.”

MIA

In April 1944, the 19th Bombardment Group was deactivated.

“Uncle Max was reassigned to the 677th Bombardment Squadron of the 444th Bombardment Group, and he would be with the squadron until his B-29 crashed in India,” Mashke said.

In June 1945, the Journal ran a story headlined “Sgt. Max Baca Reported Dead.”

Daryl Mashke knew very little about her uncles — Max H. and Max C. Baca — before she started researching their lives. She said her family had “no concrete information” about them. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

The brief article read that Baca, “a survivor of the early days of war in the Philippines, Java, Sumatra and Australia, was killed last Aug. 2 when the B-29 Superfortress on which he was serving crashed and burned during a cyclone.” The story noted he had been missing in action for more than eight months.

Until Mashke started her research, both her Uncle Maxes had, in a sense, been missing in action for much longer than that because their stories had been forgotten – or never known – by their closest surviving relatives.

She is happy to have resurrected some of their history in time for Memorial Day. She believes it is people such as her uncles, those who follow the orders, the regular soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen – two boys from South Broadway – who most deserve to be remembered today.

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