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HALF-STAFF Notification > IDAHO HALF STAFF 7/31/2010

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has ordered flags to half-staff at all Idaho state owned facilities on Saturday July 31, 2010 from dawn to dusk in honor of Vernon Baker, 1st Lt. USA, Ret. World War II Medal Of Honor recipient. The funeral service will be held at the Church of the Nazarene Gym, St. Maries, Idaho At 10:00.

April 5, 1945. Lieutenant Baker, a small man — 5 feet 5 inches and 140 pounds — was leading 25 black infantrymen through a maze of German bunkers and machine gun nests near Viareggio, Italy, a coastal town north of Pisa. About 5 a.m., they reached the south side of a ravine, 250 yards from Castle Aghinolfi, a German stronghold they hoped to capture.

Lieutenant Baker observed a telescope pointing out of a slit. Crawling under the opening, he emptied the clip of his M-1 rifle, killing two German soldiers inside the position. Then he came upon a well-camouflaged machine-gun nest whose two-man crew was eating breakfast. He shot and killed both soldiers.

After Capt. John F. Runyon, his company commander, who was white, joined the group, a German soldier hurled a grenade that hit Captain Runyon in his helmet but failed to explode. Lieutenant Baker shot the German twice as he tried to flee. He then blasted open the concealed entrance of another dugout with a hand grenade, shot one German soldier who emerged, tossed another grenade into the dugout and entered it, firing his machine gun and killing two more Germans.

Enemy machine-gun and mortar fire began to inflict heavy casualties among the platoon. Lieutenant Baker’s company commander had gone back for reinforcements, but they never arrived, so the remnants of the platoon had to withdraw. Lieutenant Baker, supported by covering fire from one of his soldiers, destroyed two machine-gun positions to allow the evacuation. Seventeen of the men in the platoon had been killed by time the firefight ended.

The next night, Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy minefields and heavy fire.

Lieutenant Baker received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for bravery. Asked a half-century later whether he had ever given up hope of being awarded the Medal of Honor, he seemed surprised. “I never thought about getting it,” he said.

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