Thursday, September 30, 2010

Widow and grandson of Medal of Honor winner turned away from White House tour.

But while they were gone to DC to bury Vernon Baker, the community repaired their house in tribute.

Baker was born on December 17, 1919, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the youngest of three children. After his parents died in a car accident when he was four, he and his two sisters were raised by their grandparents. His grandfather Joseph S. Baker, a railroad worker in Cheyenne, taught him to hunt in order to feed the family and became "the most influential figure in Vernon's life." His relationship with his grandmother was much more strained, and he spent a few years at the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska to be away from her.

Baker graduated from high school in his grandfather's hometown of Clarinda, Iowa. He then worked as a railroad porter, a job he despised, until his grandfather's death from cancer in 1939. A series of menial jobs followed until his enlistment in the U.S. Army in mid-1941. At his first attempt to enlist, in April 1941, he was turned away, the recruiter stating "We don't have any quotas for you people." He tried again weeks later with a different recruiter and was accepted; he requested to become a quartermaster but was instead assigned to the infantry.

Military service

Baker entered the Army on June 26, 1941, six months prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. He went through training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and after completing Officer Candidate School was commissioned as a second lieutenant on January 11, 1943.

In June 1944, Baker was sent to Italy with the all-black 92nd Infantry Division. He was wounded in the arm in October of that year, hospitalized near Pisa, and in December rejoined his unit in reserve along the Gothic Line. In early spring, 1945, his unit was pulled from the reserves and placed in active combat. On the morning of April 5, he participated in an attack on the German stronghold of Castle Aghinolfi. During the assault, Baker led his heavy weapons platoon through German defenses to within sight of the castle, personally destroying three machine gun nests, two observation posts, two bunkers, and a network of German telephone lines along the way. It was for these actions that he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

After the end of the war, Baker remained in Europe with the Allied occupation forces until 1947. He later joined the Army Airborne forces and left the military in 1968 as a first lieutenant. . .

Baker's first wife was Leola Baker. His second wife was Fern Brown; the couple had three children. After his wife's death in 1986, he moved to a cabin in the Benewah Valley of northern Idaho. Baker was an avid hunter, and hunted elk in northern Idaho before and after moving to the area. In 1989, he met a German woman visiting the U.S., Heidy Pawlick, whom he would later marry.

Baker died at his St. Maries, Idaho, home on July 13, 2010 after a long battle with cancer. He had been near-death due to brain cancer in 2004 but had recovered. His funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on September 24, 2010, was attended by three other Medal of Honor recipients, and his family, for whom funds to travel to the service were raised by their local community. -- Wikipedia.

From his MoH citation:

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.


Brock Townsend said...

Well, I missed something too. In 25 years in the Army he went from 2ND LT to only 1ST LT?

Anonymous said...

Family invited back:
Saw the error of their ways, maybe.
Wayne B

Anonymous said...

He was black, in the late 40's through late 60's, long before they came up with the "move up or move out" doctrine.

Being black at that time was two strikes.

The MoH implies he wasn't lazy or incompetent.

Maybe he just liked doing what he did.

Sean said...

Yo, Brock, I spent 7 and a half years as a buck sergeant. Vietnam force meltdown. Got sent to the E-6 board and promoted by a black major named Washington. Funny how life takes a turn. There seemed to me to be two kinds of black soldiers in the Army. Good as gold, and worthless.

Brock Townsend said...

Yo, Brock, I spent 7 and a half years as a buck sergeant. Vietnam force meltdown.
What a difference before the meltdown! I made E-5 in 13 months and would have gotten E-6 at 31 months if I had reenlisted (1969), but instead took the *Civil Service entrance exam in Cholon and went to work for Navy OICC in Saigon as a civilian instead.

*Back in the dark ages when you actually had to prove you had the smarts to get in........

Allen said...

my dad spent 29 years in the seabees and retired as an e-5/EO2.

he "passed but not advanced" 19 times. they just didn't have any open billets for EO1's.

it wasn't a big deal to him. he was doing what he loved, and he had as much responsibility as he wanted.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in St. Maries. Great people, your average small town. I moved shortly after Mr. Baker moved there, but my dad knew him and liked him. Said he was a "helluva nice guy." High praise from Dad ;-)

It doesn't surprise me that they fixed up the house. They also held fundraisers to help Mrs. Baker and the family go to Arlington.

BTW, there are few (if any) blacks in St. Maries. There have been a few minorities over the years, and all were accepted into the community just like anyone would be (unless they were a-holes- of any color). As long as you are friendly, the townsfolk will be friendly in return. Golden Rule applies.

Bigots, clinging to their guns and religion (as they work to help a black man's widow, like they would help anyone who needed it). /s