Medal of Honor recipient Vernon Baker dies at 90

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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announces that 1st Lt. Vernon Baker, Medal of Honor recipient, passed away Tuesday evening at his home in St. Maries, Idaho at age 90.

Then 2nd Lt. Baker was assigned to the segregated 370th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division—the first African-American unit to enter combat in World War II.

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In the spring of 1945, Lt Baker, the only African-American officer in his company, was in command of a weapons platoon ordered to launch an assault against a mountain stronghold occupied by the Germans. Moving ahead of the other platoons they encountered intense fire that inflicted heavy casualties. By afternoon, his captain ordered a retreat and Baker and his six remaining men covered their retreat, killing 26 enemy soldiers, destroying six machine gun nests, two observer posts and four dugouts. The next day, Baker volunteered to lead a battalion assault. Picking their way through minefields and heavy fire they finally secured the position at the top of the mountain.

Former President William J. Clinton presented 1st Lt. Baker with the Medal of Honor—the highest award given to those who acted with uncommon, selfless courage—on Jan. 13, 1997 for his actions April 5-6, 1945 near Viareggio, Italy during World War II.

1st Lt. Baker was one of seven African-American service members to receive the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in WWII as a result of a review of the individual records of African-American service members in the early 1990’s. At the time, no African-Americans had been awarded the Medal of Honor despite their heroic exploits in WWII. Vernon Baker was the only one of the seven still alive when the Medal of Honor was awarded. His actions had previously earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.

1st Lt. Baker was born in Cheyenne, WY on Dec. 17, 1919. He enlisted in the Army on June 26, 1941, six months prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. After completing Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned on January 11, 1943. He retired in 1968 as 1st Lieutenant after serving 27 years in the Army.

He is survived by his wife, Heidy. Funeral services are pending.

There are 89 recipients alive today.