HAMMOND -- While George Baker’s brothers in blue escorted his body, his brothers in arms stood at attention as he passed.
Dozens of former U.S. Marines gathered on a highway in Hammond for the funeral procession that was held Thursday in honor of Baker, the Louisiana State Police trooper who died from injuries sustained in the line of duty this week.
The procession took place following a service held inside the University Center in Hammond, where the governor, Baker’s fellow officers, and his sister spoke on his “selfless service.”
In addition to being a state trooper, Baker previously served in the U.S. Marines, the Greensburg Police Department, and the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Department. He also served as a volunteer firefighter in Livingston Parish.
The procession — which took a full 40 minutes to travel less than a mile down Hwy. 3234 in Hammond — went through Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes. Gatherings could be found in Hammond, Albany, and lastly, Independence, where Baker’s body was laid to rest at Lighthouse Baptist Church.
Unable to attend the service due to social distancing measures, 40 or so Marines who served with Baker in the Middle East huddled around a cell phone to watch the 90-minute service as it was live streamed on Facebook. They came from Louisiana and beyond, and many brought along their wives and children.
Once the service ended, the Marines and their families moved from their spot under the trees to under the sun, standing along Hwy. 3234 with hundreds of other people who came to give the fallen state trooper a proper send-off.
Many of Baker’s fellow servicemen held up American flags or signs that read, “Semper Fi,” the motto of the Marines that translates to “always faithful.” A few held up a large banner representing Weapons Company 323, the company that Baker served in during his tour in Iraq.
Scott Torres, Baker’s platoon sergeant, traveled nearly 500 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to Hammond, where the procession started. Speaking with The News after hundreds of first responder vehicles had passed, Torres described Baker as someone that “everybody liked” and who had “a good attitude” no matter the situation.
“The thing that sticks out is he always had a good attitude,” Torres said. “It didn’t matter what was going on. He had a smile on his face and a can-do attitude. He was always willing to share, whether it was a laugh, a dip, anything. He was always there when we needed him.”
The service and procession came four days after Baker’s death, the result of a police chase in Hammond in which Baker was struck by a responding police unit on May 20. Baker was transported to North Oaks Medical Center “in critical condition” until his ultimate passing. A vigil of family, friends, and fellow Troopers remained with Baker at the hospital “from the very beginning until his passing,” State Police said.
Baker, 33, was survived by his wife, his daughter, both parents, his sisters, and other extended family members as well as a host of friends.
News of Baker’s passing spread quickly through Louisiana and across the country. It soon reached many of Baker’s fellow servicemen, who fondly recalled the fallen trooper as “a good guy,” “someone who liked to joke around,” and “really country.”
“He was definitely a cowboy,” Torres said with a laugh. “He used to always joke and say, ‘It doesn’t matter what a girl says, every girl loves a cowboy.’ He was just a good guy.”
A lifelong resident of Albany, Baker graduated from Albany High in 2005 and then spent eight years in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve, which included one six-month combat tour in Iraq in 2007-08.
While deployed, Baker served as the company’s radio operator, a job that included sending and receiving messages, setting up and tuning equipment, and building and repairing antennas and power sources.
But he did more than that, according to Bryan Cortez, who served in the same company.
“He was our radio operator, but he filled in anywhere we needed him,” said Cortez, who came from San Antonio for the procession. “He helped train us on the radios and communications system, and in turn, we trained him on guns. He was probably one of the better ones to do it.”
Like Torres, Cortez said Baker was “always happy” and someone who “loved everybody.” Those feelings went both ways.
“Everybody loved him,” Cortez said.
Benjamin Pullen, who also served with Baker, put it another way.
“Ninety-nine percent of Marines know each other by their last name and their last names only, but you ask any one of these Marines who Baker was, they know him as ‘George Baker,’” Pullen said. “Knowing a Marine by his first name is something that is unheard of in the Marine Corps.
“So for every single Marine here to know him as ‘George Baker’ tells you exactly the type of person he was.”
Torres said news of Baker’s passing triggered “a lot of memories” from their time in the Middle East, both good and bad. But what he remembered most, he said, was how Baker was there “anytime someone needed him.”
“Sometimes the radios would go down, and he’d be on his rest time when someone would come to him asking for help,” Torres recalled. “Baker would always get up, even on his own rest time, and go help. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Cortez, who brought his 10-year-old son with him to Hammond so he could “see the Marine community,” recalled sending Baker a playful message when he became a state trooper, saying he’d “never come to Louisiana.”
It went along with the other jokes between the two, who were both avid outdoorsmen and had a running competition about who was better.
“We always talked about hunting and fishing because we both loved to do it,” Cortez said. “We always joked about who was better. I think I still am, but today, he can be.”