Black History Month Spotlight: Vernon Baker

Black History Month Spotlight: Vernon Baker

(KFVS) - February is Black History Month, and in the spotlight for Feb. 3 is Medal of Honor recipient Army 1st Lt. Vernon Baker (1919-2010).

No African American soldier or sailor was awarded a Medal of Honor during or shortly after World War II.

In 1993 a Department of Defense study found that systemic racism kept blacks from being nominated and recommended the Army consider a group of 10 soldiers for the Medal of Honor. Lt. Vernon Baker was among those soldiers.

Baker  had already been awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions while capturing Castle Aghinolfi, a mountain stronghold occupied by the German near Viareggio, Italy on March 23, 1945.

Baker's official Medal of Honor 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 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.

On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to seven of the World War II veterans; Baker was the only living recipient of the medal at the time.

Baker remained in the military until 1968, serving through its desegregation, and was one of the first black officers to command an all-white company.

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