This is about a very brave US Army hero. He died recently and he was the last living African American who received the Medal of Honor during World War II. Within a decade, most all World War II veterans will be dead. Many of them have something they would like to be made public through a reporter of a newspaper, and with all my (Noah H. Belew) pleading, the Pensacola News Journal, Pensacola, Fla., (Gannett Newspaper Company), refuse to allow one story published weekly. Shame on Kevin T. Doyle, President/Publisher, and Richard A. Schneider, Executive Editor.
Baker was 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." His relationship with his grandmother was much more strained, and he spent a few years at the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska to be away from her.
Baker entered the Army on June 26, 1941, six months prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. He went through training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and after completing Officer Candidate School was commissioned as a second lieutenant on January 11, 1943.
In 1993, a study commissioned by the U.S. Army described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. At the time, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to black soldiers who served in World War II. After an exhaustive review of files, the study recommended that several black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded the medal to seven African American World War II veterans; Baker was the only recipient still living at the time.
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 and 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.
Baker has been awarded the following: Medal of Honor; Bronze Star Medal; Purple Heart; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Combat Infantryman Badge; Croce Al Valor Militare (Italian Decoration).
Baker's first 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 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 Pawlick, whom he would later marry.