The Valor of Lieutinent Vernon Baker

The Valor of Lieutinent Vernon Baker

I thought it would be fitting to submit a post in honor of Black History Month.  Sadly, relatively little information exists on African-American service during WWII, although the African-American contribution to the war effort was valiant and note-worthy.  One reason for the scarcity of information is the fact that during WWII the military was still a segregated institution.  In fact, African-Americans were barred from combat service until 1941, and even then, only one all-black Army division saw infantry combat in the European theater.  
92nd Infantry Division Patch
This division was the famed and now celebrated 92nd Infantry Division known as the Buffalo soldiers.  The 92nd was sent into combat for the first time during WWII late in the summer of 1944.  The division landed in Italy and made its way through the country until they encountered German troops in September of the same year.  The Buffalo soldiers continued in their quest to push the Germans farther and farther into Northern Italy.
In late Spring 1945, near Viareggio, Italy, Lt. Vernon Baker of the 370th Regimental Combat Team, 92nd Infantry Division, proved his devotion to his country through an incredible act of valor.  Lt. Baker single-handedly killed 9 Germans in a single day during a siege of an enemy stronghold.  After the attack subsided, Baker retrieved the dog tags of all 19 men killed in his regiment and returned each dog tag to headquarters that evening.
Lt. Vernon Baker
For his service, Lt. Baker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but in 1992 the U.S. Army conducted an investigation into the qualifications outlined for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.  The Army determined that several African-American servicemen who were eligible to receive the Medal of Honor were initially passed over based on racial discrimination.  Finally, in January 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded Lt. Baker the Medal of Honor – which he should have received decades earlier.

 
-Megan

References:
Orso, A. ed. (2008). Armchair reader WWII: Extraordinary facts and stories. Lincolnwood, IL: West Side Publishing

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