Baker, Vernon Joseph, born 17-12-1919, 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 paternal 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.” His relationship with his wheelchaired grandmother was much more strained, and he spent a few years at the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska
to be away from her. Baker graduated in 1939 from Clarinda High School in his grandfather’s hometown of Clarinda, Iowa. He worked as a railroad porter, a job he despised, until his grandfather’s death from cancer on Christmas in 1939. A series of menial jobs followed.
Baker enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1941 from Cheyenne. He had attempted to enlist in April, but was turned away with the recruiter stating, “We don’t have any quotas for you people”. Baker tried again weeks later with a different recruiter and was accepted; he requested to become a quartermaster but was given instead the infantry. After basic training at Camp Wolters, “Hell’s Botom” in Texas, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 370th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division nickname: Buffalo Soldiers Division and slogan: “Deeds, not words” under command of Edward Mallory “Ned” Almond
Casualties of the 92th Division during the Europien compaign; Total battle casualties 2.997, killed in action 548, wounded 2.187, missing in action 26 and prisoner of war 56.
He completed officer Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant on 11-01-1943. In June 1944, the 370th Infantry landed in Naples, Italy. Soon afterwards, Baker was wounded in the arm and hospitalized for two months. In the spring of 1945, Baker was in command of Weapons Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 370th Infantry. On April 5, his unit was ordered to assault a German occupied mountain stronghold. In doing so, Baker personally eliminated three enemy machineguns, an observation post, and a dugout. 19 of the 25 men in Baker’s platoon were killed. On the second day of the assault, Baker volunteered to lead a battalion advance that secured the mountain. On June 10, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism on April 5–6. After World War II, he became an Army parachutist in the 11th Airborne Division and served in the Korean War. He retired from the Army in 1968.
Vernon Baker is presented the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton on 13-01-1997.
. In the early 1990s, it was determined that Black soldiers had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor (MOH) in World War II because of their race. In 1993, the U.S. Army had contracted Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to research and determine if there was racial disparity in the review process for recipients of the MOH. The study commissioned by the U.S. Army, described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding decorations during World War II. After an exhaustive review of files, the study recommended in 1996 that ten Black Americans who served in World War II be awarded the MOH. In October of that year, Congress passed legislation that would allow President Clinton to award the Medal of Honor to these former soldiers. Seven of the ten, including Baker, were approved, and awarded the MOH (six had Distinguished Service Crosses revoked and upgraded to the MOH), on 12-01-1997. On 13-01-1997, President Clinton presented the MOH to Baker, age 77, and posthumously presented the MOH to the other six Black Americans.
Baker worked for the American Red Cross for almost 20 years. His first and second wives were Leola and Helen Baker. His third wife was Fern Brown; the couple had three children. After Fern’s death in 1986, Baker moved to a cabin in the Benewah Valley of northern Idaho. Baker was an avid hunter, and hunted elk in northern Idaho before and after moving to the area. In 1989, he met a German woman visiting the U.S., Heidy Pawlik, whom he would later marry.
Death and burial ground of Baker, Vernon Joseph.
Baker died at his St. Maries, Idaho, home on July 13, 2010 after a long battle with cancer. He had been close to death from brain cancer in 2004 but had recovered. His funeral
at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 59, Grave 4408 near Washington, DC, on 24-10-2010, was attended by three other Medal of Honor recipients, and his family. Funds for them to travel to Arlington, Virginia, were raised by their local community