Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has proclaimed Thursday will be Vernon J. Baker Day, in honor of the St. Maries resident who is the only living African-American Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
“I encourage Idahoans to honor this courageous citizen who is the embodiment of the true American hero and who ensures and reminds us of all that is wonderful about Idaho and this great country,” Otter wrote in the proclamation, signed Dec. 8.
Baker, who served for eight years on the state’s Human Rights Commission, turns 90 on Thursday. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997.
“Oh my Lord, thank you,” Baker said when he learned of the proclamation Tuesday. “I appreciate that very, very much. The only thing I can do about it is sit here and cry.”
Baker received the Medal of Honor for leading a two-day assault in 1945 against an Italian mountain stronghold occupied by German soldiers and securing it for American forces.
Baker also is the last survivor of the Buffalo Soldiers unit, the segregated 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division, the first all-black unit to see combat in World War II, according to a news release from the commission. Baker holds numerous other medals, including a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Cross.
In a personal letter, Otter told Baker that his valor and sacrifice “helped preserve the freedoms we cherish as Americans. You are an example to all of us, and Idaho is grateful for your service and humbled by your civic virtue.”
The proclamation was a great way to honor Baker, said Pamela Parks, director of the Human Rights Commission, the state agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. “He added a great deal to the deliberations here … and was much admired,” she said.