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Medal of Honor recipient Baker dies at 66

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Medal of Honor recipient, retired Master Sgt. John F. Baker Jr., died Jan. 20, in Columbia. Baker, a Northeast Columbia resident and loyal supporter of Fort Jackson, was 66.

A memorial service for Baker is scheduled for 1 p.m., Friday, at the Post Theater.

Baker, who had earned the nation's highest award for valor in combat for his heroic actions in Vietnam, regularly attended ceremonies and special events on post, along with his wife Donnell.

"We lost a true American hero who was a wonderful role model for all of us, said Maj. Gen. James Milano, Fort Jackson commanding general. "He exemplified the Army Values in all aspects of his life."

Baker, who was born Oct. 30, 1945, in Davenport, Iowa, received the Medal of Honor as a private first class with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, for actions after his unit was ambushed Nov. 5, 1966, in Vietnam. Baker saved the lives of eight of his comrades, while knocking out six Viet Cong machine-gun bunkers and killing 10 enemy soldiers.

According to Baker's citation, Baker's unit was en route to assist another unit that was engaged with the Viet Cong. Baker's company came under intense fire and the point man was killed.

"Sgt. Baker immediately moved to the head of the column and together with another Soldier knocked out two enemy bunkers," the citation reads. "When his comrade was mortally wounded, Sgt. Baker, spotting four Viet Cong snipers, killed all of them, evacuated the fallen soldier and returned to lead repeated assaults against the enemy positions, killing several more Viet Cong."

Baker was not done risking his life, according to the citation.

"Moving to attack two additional enemy bunkers, he and another Soldier drew intense enemy fire and Sgt. Baker was blown from his feet by an enemy grenade," the citation reads. "He quickly recovered and single-handedly destroyed one bunker before the other Soldier was wounded. Seizing his fallen comrade's machine gun, Sgt. Baker charged through the deadly fusillade to silence the other bunker. He evacuated his comrade, replenished his ammunition and returned to the forefront to brave the enemy fire and continue the fight."

At that point, Baker continued rescuing comrades while still under fire. After he carried one wounded Soldier to the rear, he returned to evacuate another Soldier, but was under fire by snipers. He then raced beyond the friendly troops to attack and kill the snipers, according to the citation's account of the fight.

"After evacuating the wounded man, he returned to cover the deployment of the unit. His ammunition now exhausted, he dragged two more of his fallen comrades to the rear," the citation reads.

Col. Drew Meyerowich, commander of the 193rd Infantry Brigade, is a former commander of the 2-27th and met Baker for the first time when he came to visit his Soldiers before deploying to Iraq. The two men forged a strong bond.

"I had to be the person to coordinate this memorial service for John Baker," Meyerowich said. "Five-foot-two John Baker was a giant. ... Once you got to know him, you realized he's exactly the giant we expect to see on the battle field. He was larger than life."

With Baker's death, Columbia has lost the second of its two Medal of Honor residents. The other resident was World War II hero Col. Charles P. Murray, also a beloved Fort Jackson supporter. Murray died Aug. 12. He was 89.

"Both of these heroes were great supporters of Fort Jackson," Milano said. "I feel fortunate to have known them."

Article by Fort Jackson Leader staff