Born: December 17, 1919
War: World War II
Rank: First Lieutenant, Infantry,
U.S. Army Company C, 370th Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.
Location of action: Near Viareggio, Italy,
Castle Aghinolfi - a German mountain strong point on the high
Date of action: April 5-6, 1945
Medal received from: President Bill Clinton,
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his
own life own life above and beyond the call of duty in action
on 5 and 6 April 1945, Lieutenant Baker advanced at the head
of his weapons platoon, along with Company C’s three rifle
platoons, toward their objective; Castle Aghinolfi—a German
mountain strong point on the high ground just east of the coastal
highway and about two miles from the 370th Infantry Regiment’s
line of departure.
Moving more rapidly than the rest of the
company, Lieutenant Baker and about 25 men reached the south
side of a draw some 250 yards from the castle within two hours.
In reconnoitering for a suitable position to set up a machine
gun, Lieutenant Baker observed two cylindrical objects pointing
out of a slit in a mount at the edge of a hill. Crawling up
and under the opening, he stuck his M-1 into the slit and emptied
the clip, killing the observation post’s two occupants.
Moving to another position in the same area, Lieutenant Baker
stumbled upon a well-camouflaged machine gun nest, the crew
of which was eating breakfast. He shot and killed both enemy
After Captain John F. Runyon, Company C’s Commander,
joined the group, a German soldier appeared from the draw and
hurled a grenade which failed to explode. Lieutenant Baker shot
the enemy soldier twice as he tried to flee. Lieutenant Baker
then went down into the draw alone. There he blasted open the
concealed entrance to another dugout with a hand grenade, shot
one German soldier who emerged after the explosion, tossed another
grenade into the dugout and entered firing his submachine gun,
killing two more Germans. As Lieutenant Baker climbed back out
of the draw, enemy machine gun and mortar fire began to inflict
heavy casualties among the group of 25 soldiers, killing or
wounding about two-thirds of them.
When expected reinforcements
did not arrive, Capt. Runyon ordered a withdrawal in two groups.
Lieutenant Baker volunteered to cover the withdrawal of the
first group, which consisted of mostly walking wounded, and
to remain to assist in the evacuation of the more seriously
wounded. During the second group’s withdrawal, Lieutenant
Baker, supported by covering fire from one of his platoon members,
destroyed two machine gun position (previously bypassed during
the assault) with hand grenades. In all, Lieutenant Baker accounted
for nine dead enemy soldiers, elimination of three machine gun
positions, an observation post, and a dugout. On the following
night, Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance
through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division
objective. Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring
leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the
highest traditions of the military service.
Vernon Baker fought in Italy, earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1996, more than fifty years after the assault on Castle Aghinolfi, he received a telephone call from a man working on a federal grant to reevaluate the heroism of blacks in World War II. It was during this phone call Baker learned he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Baker is the only living black World War II veteran to earn the Medal of Honor.
Read an except from
Vernon Baker's interview.