Aug 31, 2014

Heroes: Vernon Baker

Vernon Joseph Baker (1919-2010) was a United States Army officer who received the Medal of Honor, belatedly bestowed by President Bill Clinton in 1997. He died in 2010 at the age of 90.
He was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming and after his parents died in a car accident he was raised with two sisters by their grandparents. His grandfather was a railroad worker in Cheyenne and taught Vernon how to hunt in order to help bring food to the table. Graduating from high school, he worked as a railroad porter, until his grandfather's death in 1939. He attempted to enlist in the US Army in April of 1941, but was turned down by the recruiter. Baker tried again with a different recruiter and was accepted, requesting to become a quartermaster, but was assigned to the infantry. After completing Officer Candidate School he was commissioned as second lieutenant on January 11, 1943.
Baker was wounded in the arm in October of 1944, near Piza, Italy.
After the end of the war, Baker remained in Europe with Allied occupation forces until 1947, when he lost his commission due to lack of college education. He was re-commissioned during the Korean War and joined the 11th Airborne Division, but was not in any combat. He left the military in 1968 as first lieutenant. After recognizing discrimination against African Americans who served in the military, Baker finally received the medal he deserved.
Receiving Medal of Honor in 1997
His 1997 citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism in action on 5 and 6 April 1945, near Viareggio, Italy. Then Second Lieutenant Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel and equipment during his company's attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. When his company was stopped by the concentration of fire from several machine gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans. Continuing forward, he attacked and enemy observation post and killed two occupants. With the aid of one of his men, Lieutenant Baker attacked two more machine gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy's fire. On the following night Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Second Lieutenant Baker's fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.

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