The U.S. Senate approved legislation Thursday granting $64,000 in back pay to Vernon Baker, the St. Maries World War II veteran denied the Medal of Honor because of his race.
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, called it “a matter of fairness” when he reintroduced the payment as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.
Medal of Honor winners receive a stipend of $400 per month and the money is tax free. Baker was a second lieutenant in the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Division in north Italy in World War II.
He previously received the Distinguished Service Cross - the nation’s second-highest award for valor - for single-handedly taking out three German machine gun nests, an observation post and two bunkers on April 5, 1945. With other honors, he was the most highly decorated black soldier in the Mediterranean Theatre at the end of the war.
A recent Army study determined that Baker and six other men should have received the Medal of Honor, but were denied the honor because of their race.
Baker received the medal in a White House ceremony last January. He is the only one of the seven veterans still alive. Kempthorne’s bill authorizes back payments to the survivors of two of the other men - 1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas, who fought in France and Sgt. Edward A, Carter, Jr. who fought in Germany.
Both Thomas and Carter survived the war, but have since died. The other four Medal of Honor recipients were killed in action and therefore did not qualify for the stipend.
“Heroes like Vernon Baker served our country with tremendous courage during World War II,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. “Recognition of that valor was given earlier this year with the Medal of Honor. Today we further acknowledge Mr. Baker’s service to America with a well-deserved retroactive pension that will give him and his family additional comfort.”
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