Navy veteran undaunted after robbery

Ralph Baker doesn’t mind so much that some lowlife marched into his apartment the other night and swiped his wallet.

It was what was inside the black billfold, which held $60.01, that he will miss most.

The penny.

It was shiny and new when the native New Yorker picked it up off the ground at a Long Island train station the day his mother and sister saw him off to join the Navy in 1965.

The one-cent keepsake stayed with the 27-year enlistee through Vietnam, through the aftermath of the Beirut barracks bombing in 1983, through Kuwait during Desert Storm in 1991.

Now it may well be back in circulation after what happened Monday evening at Baker’s Old Clinton Road residence.

About 7 o’clock, a stranger, a man who looked to be in his late 20s, showed up in the breezeway outside Baker’s first-floor apartment. Baker, 61, likes to sit there in his wheelchair sometimes for the fresh air and the company of a skinny gray cat he feeds.

The stranger bummed a cigarette from Baker, a three-plus-pack-a-day smoker, and went on his way. Ten minutes or so later, Baker was back inside when the man barged in and said, “Give me your money!”

The bandit kept a hand tucked into the pocket of his gray sweatshirt, gesturing as if gripping a handgun.

“I started laughing at him,” says Baker, who hasn’t been able to walk since an industrial accident a decade ago.

“He said, ‘What are you laughing at?’ I said, ‘Kid, I’ve been in the military 27 years and you wouldn’t believe the number of times somebody’s pointed a gun at me.’

He said, ‘I’ve got a gun, I’ll shoot you.’ I said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ ’’

The thief took off with Baker’s wallet, which also contained his driver’s license and a military ID card. “And I can’t get those replaced easily,” the veteran says. “I can’t go stand in line and I don’t drive anymore.”

As for the lost lucky penny, “It doesn’t look like it used to,” says Baker, his native Brooklyn brogue anything but faint. “It’s like me. It’s all washed up, burned out and tarnished. ... But it’s been to more places than most people — 78 countries.”

Baker moved to Macon from Kentucky about a decade ago to be closer to his sister. She lives in Jones County.

Baker, who says he owns Colt .45 revolver, had given the gun to his sister. After Monday’s robbery, he plans on getting it back.

“I’ve got a shoulder holster for it,” he says. “It’s gonna be ‘Have Gun — Will Travel.’ If anybody unwanted comes in, I’m gonna blow ’em away.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.