American Valor
Vernon Baker
Interview Excerpt

The summer of 1941 when I got tired of being a porter on the railroad and servant, I quit my job and joined the Army. In June of 1941.

About a week before we graduated, we were setting up in the stands, and our tack officer, who was in charge of our platoon asked, do any of you have any questions about why you're here in OCS? And one of the candidates stood up and said, yes sir, Lieutenant, we'd like to know, um, why are they making so many second lieutenants? At that time the war was in full swing. And tack officer gave that grin and said, candidate, because second lieutenants are expendable.

On the boat going overseas me as a young man, I was only 22 years old then, 23. And I became the father to my platoon. The men we, we got to know each other. Most of them couldn't read or write. And I read their letters, and I wrote letters home for them. And we became quite close. So when we landed in Italy and we got ourselves together, our staging area was at Civitavecchia on the west coast of the peninsula. And then we started our trek up the peninsula. And in the process I lost some good men. Until we came to the day of April 5th, 1945. I'm an old soldier, I ain't supposed to be crying. It was 19 men that I left over in Italy there that couldn't be here with me today. And without them, four of those men, I probably wouldn't be here myself. And everybody calls me a hero, but those are the heroes, because, where were we?

During that engagement I was abandoned by my company commander. Who told me that he was going back for reinforcements, while we were in the midst of a hellfire engagement up there on the hill and it made me all the more determined to accomplish our mission. Because at that time the army was segregated, it was thought that we weren't able to fight. That we were cowards. Because we were black. And then when our company commander, who abandoned us went back and told our battalion commander not to worry about us because we were washed out, or wiped away - I didn't find all this out until after everything was over with. And what made me really angry was the fact that nobody gave us any word of encouragement or any words of thanks. When I went back to regimental headquarters to turn in the dog tags of the 19 men that I'd left up on that hill there I was chewed out by the regimental commander Colonel Sherman himself, because I wasn't wearing a steel helmet.

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