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Black History Month


Soldier received Medal of Honor 52 years after WWII service

Half a century is a long time to wait to be noticed. Imagine how Vernon Baker felt when he was finally recognized for his bravery during World War II by being awarded the Medal of Honor more than 50 years after he served in the U.S. Army.

The Medal of Honor is the highest award a person who has served in the armed forces can receive. This medal is awarded to those who showed personal bravery in action while serving in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and, in times of war, the Coast Guard.

What makes Baker’s medal so special? While Baker, now 79, was only one of more than 11/2 million African-American soldiers who fought in World War II, he became the first living African American to receive the Medal of Honor for service in World War II. It was placed around his neck at a White House ceremony in January 1997.

Baker served in Italy as a lieutenant in the Army’s all-black 92nd Infantry, known as the Buffalo Division. His medal was awarded for bravery during a battle at Castle Aghinolfi, a Nazi stronghold in Italy, April 5, 1945.

Six other African-American soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously at the same ceremony: Edward A. Carter Jr., John R. Fox, Willy F. James Jr., Ruben Rivers, Charles L. Thomas and George Watson.

African-American soldiers faced much discrimination during World War II. They lived in segregated housing and fought together in segregated units. It was this discrimination that was responsible for the lack of black Medal of Honor awardees, according to a panel of military historians who were asked to examine the problem. The panel members chose Baker and the other six men to receive the honor.

What did Baker have to say about his long wait for his medal?

"I used to be an angry young man, but I’m not angry anymore."

— By Laurie Hanson


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