Dead, Vernon Joseph Baker on July 13, 2010 at the age of 91, he was an United States Army officer who received the Medal of Honor, the highest military award given by the United States Government for his valorous actions during World War II.
He was awarded the medal for his actions on April 5–6, 1945 near Viareggio, Italy.
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. 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. He attempt to enlist in April 1941, but was turned away with the recruiter stating, “We don’t have any quotas for you people”.
In early spring, 1945, his unit was pulled from the reserve status and ordered into combat. On the morning of April 5, Baker participated in an attack on the German stronghold of Castle Aghinolfi.
During the assault, Baker led his heavy weapons platoon through German army defenses to within sight of the castle, personally destroying a machine gun position, two observation posts, two bunkers, and a network of German telephone lines along the way.
It was for these and other actions including leading a battalion advance under heavy fire that he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
Baker’s first wife was Helen Stewart Baker, a member of the Conley Family of Alabama, and cousin of Coleman and Booker, who persuaded Baker to join the 92nd Infantry Division. Two children came of this union: Vernon Baker (daughter named for him) and Micheal Baker.
His second wife was Leola Baker.
His Third wife was Betty Alexander of Columbus, Georgia. A daughter, Debra Ann and a son William were had in this union.
His fourth 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 earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross during his time in service.
He remained in the military until 1968, lived through its desegregation, and became one of the first blacks to command an all-white company.
He joined the U.S. Army Airborne along the way, and trained to be a military parachutist. He made his last jump at age 48.
In 1996, more than 50 years after the assault on Castle Aghinolfi, he received a telephone call from a man working on a federal grant to re-evaluate the heroism of blacks in World War II.
During this phone call Baker learned he was to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.