During tough times, it can seem as if obstacles are too daunting to ever overcome. Inspiration, in whatever form, is in great demand, so we applaud Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s proclamation that shines a light on the life of Vernon Baker.
The World War II hero’s birthday is today. He’s 90. Otter has proclaimed it Vernon J. Baker Day, and so the St. Maries man can add another honor to his collection.
Baker burst onto the national scene when a U.S. Army review in 1997 determined that he should have received the Medal of Honor. Fifty years after his courageous deeds in northern Italy, he and five others became the first African-American veterans of World War II to receive that award. He was the only one still alive, so he carried the banner for all of the 1.2 million African-Americans who served in that war. He’s also received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Baker knows all about overcoming difficult times. He was an orphan raised by grandparents in Wyoming. He faced the discrimination aimed at people of his generation who were born with dark skin.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. But when faced with his duties as a soldier, Baker wasn’t paralyzed by bitterness. On April 5, 1945, after his white commander deserted on a hellish day behind enemy lines, Baker rallied the troops and led a charge on Castle Aghinolfi, a German stronghold near Pisa.
The troops took the castle. Baker alone eliminated three machine gun nests, two bunkers and an observation post.
In 1987, Baker settled in St. Maries. His easygoing manner was a good fit in Benewah County. “People are so friendly here,” he said. “They invited me to go fishing.” He was so beloved and respected that the community rallied to his side when he was faced with large medical bills after brain surgery.
Baker’s public service didn’t end with World War II. He served for eight years on the state’s Human Rights Commission. He once said, “I’ve never seen color. I look out and I see America. I love you, America.”
America didn’t always return the love, but it finally came around. To his credit, Baker graciously accepted it.
Upon hearing that today is his day, Baker said, “Oh my lord, thank you. I appreciate that very, very much. The only thing I can do about it is sit here and cry.”
Otter’s proclamation reads, in part: “You are an example to all of us, and Idaho is grateful for your service and humbled by your civic virtue.”
We are humbled by his entire life story.