By Marsha M. Brown
This past week has been exceptionally busy in preparation of the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Outer Banks V.F.W. Post 10950 being hosted at the Colington Volunteer Fire Department, Saturday, April 25th 5:00 -8pm, 108 Old School House Rd. in Colington. Members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars have used the best means available to them to invite & encourage everyone (veterans and non-veterans) that reside or visit the Outer Banks to join in bringing further awareness of our veterans, their sacrifice and their commitment not only to our country but to each other. Perhaps by the time you read this ‘GIG LINE’ you will have already taken part in the picnic, enjoyed yummy food, heard live music and made new friends. But while in the midst of helping my sweetie pie Billy (Vietnam veteran) and his fellow V.F.W. members who are committed to support and grow Post 10950, we heard very sad news.
On Monday morning, April 20th our good friend Anna Baum called us in tears. It wasn’t unusual that Anna would call upset because several times in the past she called to let us know that her husband was having another amputation; that he was being readmitted to the hospital or that after having been told he might not make it through the night, she had called the family in to see him one last time. But this time there was something different in her voice…this time she had called to tell us that her best friend and the love of her life Richard L. Baum, Sr., also a Vietnam veteran had passed away at their home only hours before.
The words Anna spoke were difficult to convey and her heart was obviously broken. She phoned to tell us the man she loved with all of her heart had gone to be with the Lord. After all the suffering she had witnessed…after all the hard news that medical personnel had delivered to them time and time again…God had taken Richard home.
My first thought after hearing the news was sadness…Richard was our friend…but then I realized that Richard’s health was now restored and that his fingers, toes and legs lost to diabetes were now healed and back in place again. I also knew Richard had leaned on God as his personal Savior for many years, that his faith was real and that the prayers spoken over him had brought him comfort time and time again.
I had only come to personally know Richard & Anna Baum in 2012. How I came to know them was no doubt through divine intervention. After I began writing ‘GIG LINE’ in March of that year, I received a phone call from Valerie Daniels of Wanchese. Valerie and her husband Bobby Luther, (also a Vietnam veteran who passed away recently), had known Richard & Anna for many years. They had heard and witnessed first hand the hardships, struggles and overwhelming challenges the Baum’s had endured. As Christians and because they cared, they reached out…one vet to another…for help for their friends.
Following Bobby & Valerie’s call to us, we in turn called Richard & Anna to see if Billy and another veteran Clarence Skinner (of Manteo) could visit them to see if and how they could be of help. As I remember, Richard was a little reluctant to hear that help might be available to him. He had previously tried to get help directly through the V.A. only to be disappointed and discouraged to that point but he did agree to see the fellas at his home.
While there the three veterans, Clarence, U. S. Air Force Major Ret., Richard and Billy both U. S. Army Vietnam veterans talked…and they talked and together the ‘brothers’ prayed. They prayed for Richard having learned during the visit that he had suffered several amputations due to diabetes. They talked to him about not giving up but rather to allow the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council to help if at all possible; to consider reaching out to the V.A. again; to consider getting an Agent Orange screening at the Hampton V.A. Medical Center and at the very least to meet with the V.A. Rural Health Outreach reps who would be coming into Dare County soon.
Sitting among them that day was an angel…that angel was Anna. A loyal, devoted and adoring wife Anna had loved ‘her’ Richard more with each passing day and over all the years together…she had prayed and she had stayed right there at his side…when because of health and surgeries Richard’s health deteriorated and he had to abandon his fishing profession, she stuck by him. She stayed through his veteran nightmares and through his tears…through his surgeries…through his very real “phantom pain” for his missing toes, leg and fingers too…but to Richard and Anna there was no “phantom” to it. Through it all her faith that God would somehow make things better, not for her…but for Richard stayed the course against the wind and the tide, she remained at his bedside faithful and committed to his care. Keeping the vows spoken so long ago…”in sickness and in health”, “for richer or poorer” Anna and Richard stuck it out loving each other.
When I got involved shortly after Billy’s visit that day, I literally fell in love with both of them. I found them to be thankful, genuine and the real deal salt of the earth good people. I was impressed and inspired…I hoped that prayers would be answered for them too and when we visited, the love of my life and I prayed with them holding hands together.
Over the course of visits and phone calls, I came to realize that even while all the life changing events occurred in Richard’s life, Anna had undergone a complete mastectomy due to breast cancer. But you know what? They still laughed and made others laugh. And when they cried, they cried not for themselves but for each other. Oh goodness…how ashamed I have felt more than once for complaining about anything.
Weeks passed, then months and over the last three years we came to love Richard and Anna even more. Even after all they had gone through, they looked for the joys in life; they laughed whenever possible and they appreciated the blessings we often take for granted. Richard had a very dry sense of humor and he made you (me) laugh…it was impossible not to…Richard L. Baum was an incredible, awesome man. He always called me ‘Marshy’ or ‘Marsh’ rather than Marsha; in fact, I don’t think I ever heard him say Marsha even once. He had cute little sayings and expressions and he’d make light of his own situation as if it was really no big deal…which was for everyone else’s benefit I’m sure…he wanted to lift others burdens and worries as best he could. Like so many of you who knew Richard, Billy and I truly loved him.
When we all came together to honor Richard & Anna at a fish fry in 2013 it blessed his heart beyond words. He was so proud to see all the watermen who came to his side…some whom had never even met him…they had just heard about him…the legend that Richard was. And veterans too…they came wearing their veteran hats and T-shirts just like Richard to celebrate one of their own…including one vet all the way from Fort Bragg, N. C. that had heard about the event. That made him happy…really happy that day. Veterans who had walked through the same, dank jungles of Vietnam only to miraculously come back to rejoin ‘brothers’ just like them be it a ‘Wancheser’, ‘Manteoer’ or ‘Beacher’ to live another day came to see Richard, wish him well and show him their support.
As more time passed Richard lost what toes he had left on one foot, then…his leg…again. Still in all, sweet and funny Richard Baum and his absolutely devoted wife Anna’s prayers were somewhat answered including the prayer he had had to pass from this world into the next in his own home in the company of his precious Anna…not in the hospital.
Life for all who knew Richard will be different now. We will not hear his funny stories or hear tales of his life on the water. We will not hear his reflections of Vietnam and the memories he wanted to forget. What we will though is remember his kindness, his love of his daughter Carolyn, his son Little Richard and his four grandchildren who always asked their granddaddy for ‘cookies’. And…we’ll remember a brave, courageous man who found in Southeast Asia and right here at home battling the effects of Agent Orange.
Be happy Anna that Richard’s last prayers were answered; be proud that you stood up to the V.A. and to the doctors about some things especially important to Richard in defense of your proud husband and his wishes. You were his soul mate who stood beside him through it all. Love yourself too for being a loving soldier’s wife and a waterman’s comfort and know that Richard crossed the bar this final time to the other beautiful shore where he is dancing for joy once again on his brand new legs.
If you are a veteran or the spouse of a veteran and you would like to write a note or send a card of condolence to Anna, you are welcomed to do so at Anna Baum, 118 Par 4 Drive, Grandy, N. C. 27939. Be prepared though, Anna will likely preach for a minute and give thanks to the Lord for ‘her’ Richard and all of God’s blessings. Thank you all for reading GIG LINE. Pray for our veterans from WWII forward. Pray for our active duty men and women and for their families. Think about our P.O.W. & M.I.A. Hug each other, be happy, be safe and be proud. We are Americans and our country and our veterans are the best this world has to offer. Write to us through firstname.lastname@example.org or call me: 202-2058. God bless you.