First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker the last surviving Black Medal of Honor recipient died in his home near St. Maries Idaho. He was 90 years old.
In 1945, First Lt. Baker was the only Black Officer in his company in charge of a weapons platoon. On April 5, 1945 his squad was ordered to assault Castle Aghinoifi, a German stronghold. The Washington Post has a detailed account of his actions:
Two hours after starting their mission on April 5, Lt. Baker and his men came within 300 yards of the castle. While attempting to find a suitable place for a machine gun, Lt. Baker observed two rifle barrels hanging out of a concealed slit in some rocky earth.After stealthily crawling to the opening, he popped up and emptied the clip of his M-1 rifle into the observation post, killing two sentries.While searching for more camouflaged emplacements, Lt. Baker spotted a machine-gun nest occupied by two soldiers distracted by their breakfast. He shot and killed them both.A German soldier then hurled a grenade that landed at Lt. Baker's feet. Undeterred, he fired two fatal rounds at the fleeing German, while the grenade by Lt. Baker's boots failed to explode.
He found the door to another bunker and blasted it open with a grenade. A wounded German soldier stumbled out in confusion, and Lt. Baker shot him. After tossing in a second grenade, he raided the bunker with a submachine gun blazing, killing two more Germans.On the way back to his men, Lt. Baker saw that his platoon's position had come under heavy machine gun and mortar fire. He watched in despair as 19 of his men were cut down by bullets or wounded by shrapnel.
Even though he'd been shot in the hand, Lt. Baker led the evacuation of his remaining men, helping to eliminate two machine-gun nests and four more German troops.
In the midst of the retreat, Lt. Baker's platoon came across German soldiers wearing helmets painted with red crosses carrying litters covered with blankets.
His shellshocked men urged him to let them fire, but Lt. Baker refused. When the platoon came within 50 yards of the supposed medics, the Germans dropped their stretchers and picked up machine guns.
"Hit the bastards!" Lt. Baker instructed his men, according to his 1997 memoir "Lasting Valor." "Our riflemen cut loose with a vengeance. . . . The enemy platoon dissolved."Lt. Baker received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and The Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. Because of the racial elements at the time, it took 52 years for Lt. Baker to be nominated and presented with the Medal Of Honor for his actions. You can read his citation here.
Lt. Baker retired from the Army in 1968. He started a second career working more than 20 years with the Red Cross.
When speaking about the Medal Of Honor, Lt. Baker is quoted as saying, "I'm not a hero. I am a soldier that did a good job. I think the real hero's are the men I left behind on that hill that day." Well Lt. Baker, I would like to thank you for your service, your sacrifice and for being a teacher in the art of Valor. You are MY hero.