July 16, 2010
Vernon Baker, winner of the Congressional Medal Of Honor for extraordinary heroism in the Second World War, has died at 90 at his home in tiny St. Marie's, Idaho.
Baker was an African-American. He received his Medal of Honor (52 years after earning it) in a special White House ceremony, where President Clinton presented it to him.
Baker was only 5'2", but would not let his height, nor the bigotry he fought against, stop him from defending his country. A member of the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, his Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
"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" (Source).
Despite the bigotry he experienced as a young man - initially, he was even rejected by the Army itself - Baker said, Ive never seen color. I look out and I see America. I love you, America."
Vernon Baker came back to a country stilled marred by racism, but he refused not to live the American Dream. He continued to serve in the Army and then, for two decades, worked for the U.S. Red Cross.
Baker moved to St. Maries for a simple reason: In the great Idaho outdoors, he loved to hunt. St. Maries is near beautiful Lake Coeur D'Alene and about two and one-half hours from Canada. It is one of the most lovely places in the United States, a fitting place for a gentleman-warrior like Vernon Baker to enjoy his final years.
He was married twice; his first wife passed away in 1986, and he leaves behind his second wife, Heidy - a German native. He and his first wife raised three children, and with Heidy he had a stepdaughter and a stepgrandson.
Vernon Baker also leaves a nation forever grateful for his sacrifice, his courage and his patriotism. His overarching legacy is to make every citizen of our country prouder to be an American.