The son of Russian immigrants, Michael Bak Jr. was raised in New Jersey during the Depression. “I came home one time in my Boy Scout uniform,” he recalled in his Naval Institute oral history, “and one of our Russian relatives berated my parents for allowing me to join the Scouts. She felt that there was a war coming on soon, and I would be the first to be called up because of the uniform.”
In late 1942, Bak enlisted in the Navy, moved through boot camp to quartermaster school at Great Lakes, and then reported to the precommissioning crew of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Franks (DD-554) fitting out in Bremerton. Following commissioning in July 1943, the Franks joined the war in the Pacific screening escort carriers, retrieving downed pilots, and patrolling against submarines. In late 1944, with the Philippine operations coming on, she joined Seventh Fleet.