The NAACP mourns the passing of Vernon Baker, former United States military officer and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Mr. Baker passed on July 13 at the age of 90 at his home in St. Maries, Idaho.
A military hero, Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on April 5-6, 1945, when he and his platoon killed 26 enemy soldiers and destroyed six machine gun nests, two observer posts and four dugouts near Viareggio, Italy. He was one of seven Medal of Honor recipients who became the first Black soldiers to receive the award on January 13, 1997, and the only veteran of the group still living.
“Vernon Baker’s actions in World War II are the embodiment of courage, valor and sacrifice” said NAACP President & CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “The bravery displayed by Baker exemplified the type of leadership needed for this country to emerge victorious against the Axis powers, and represented progress in African Americans’ quest for equality. His legacy provides a timeless inspiration for our country, its military and anyone who has ever had to invoke courage under fire.”
Despite a successful track record dating back to the Revolutionary War, Black soldiers were deemed unfit for combat during the Jim Crow era. By 1944 – in part due to intensifying pressure from the black community – the Army finally gave in and formed Baker’s all-black 92nd Infantry Division, which was one of the few all-black units to see combat during WWII. During his stint in the Army, Baker experienced discrimination from both White and Black soldiers – White soldiers who refused to afford him privileges that were granted to POWs, and Black soldiers who resented him for his rapid ascension through the military ranks.
Baker ignored the mistreatment he received in the Army, instead conducting his service with diligence, brilliance and pride. Yet despite being recognized by President Clinton with the Medal of Honor, Baker insisted he did nothing extraordinary.
“I’m not a hero,” Baker said. “I’m just a soldier that did a good job. I think the real heroes are the men I left behind on that hill that day.”
Services will be at 11 a.m. July 31 at The Church of the Nazarene, 175 Grandview Dr. in St. Maries, Idaho. A reception will follow at the church. Baker will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
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