If by chance you missed the announcements, Lieutenant Vernon Baker, Hero of Heroes passed away in July of this year. If you would like to visit his online memorial, click here Find-A-Grave Memorial. You can also leave virtual flowers and a note if you wish.
It was in 1993 that officials from the US military approached Raleigh, North Carolina representatives of Shaw University. They petitioned to find out why not one single African American soldier had received the Congressional Medal of Honor as a result of “over and beyond” courage and bravery during the Second World War. The resulting inquisition uncovered no documented discrimination toward any African American in respect to the decisions to award the Medal of Honor. It did conclude that discrimination might have impeded the recognition of heroic behavior or actions.
There were 1.2 million African Americans who served in the United States military during the war and of the hundreds of Medal of Honor recipients none were awarded to an African American.
Historians submitted to US Army officials, as a result of the inquisition, ten African American servicemen that they judged should have been considered for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Seven of these brave men were later chosen to actually receive the medal after careful consideration.
Lt. Vernon Baker was one of those men, and the only one still living at the time.
A problem quickly developed. The Statutory of Limitation had expired for presentation of the award. Congress scrambled and quickly passed legislation to allow the President to present the awards after the many long years that had passed since the brave actions of these courageous men. The other six were awarded to family members posthumously.
The six awarded posthumously were:
Major Charles L Thomas, Detroit
First Lieutenant John R. Fox, Cincinnati, Ohio
Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers, Oklahoma City
Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr., Los Angeles
Private First class Willy F. James, Jr., Kansas City
Private George Watson, Birmingham, Alabama
All were recipients of the Distinguished Service Crosses with the exception of SSgt Rivers who previously had received the Silver Star. The nation’s second highest award is the Distinguished Service Cross and the third highest is the Silver Star.
FIRST LIEUTENANT VERNON BAKER – OFFICAL CITATION Presented by President William Clinton on January 13, 1997 in a special ceremony.
1LT Vernon Baker, Infantry, United States Army, Company C, 370th Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division
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 an 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.
Fifty-two years later on January 13, 1997, Mr. Baker entered the White House East Room. The Marine Corps Band was playing “God Bless America”. He received a standing ovation.
As the President placed the Medal around his neck a tear rolled down Mr Baker’s cheek. He later said that he was thinking about that hill and what was going on that day. He also said that he was an old soldier and not suppose to cry.
” I was a soldier and I had a job to do,” Mr. Baker explained after the ceremony.
After WWII was over, Lieutenant Baker remained in the US Army until 1968. After military retirement, he counseled military needy families as an employee of the American Red Cross.
This Hero of Heroes was born 17 December 1919 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He died at the age of 90 after complication from brain cancer. As I write this piece I can hear “taps” in my minds ear. Listen closely for I bet you can hear it too!
Rest in peace sir, we salute you and send a “thank you” for our freedom. God Bless America.