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BAKER, JOHN F., JR.

BAKER, JOHN F., JR.

Rank and organization: Sergeant (then Pfc.), U.S. Army, Company A, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 5 November 1966. Entered service at: Moline, Ill. Born: 30 October 1945, Davenport, Iowa. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. En route to assist another unit that was engaged with the enemy, Company A came under intense enemy fire and the lead man was killed instantly. Sgt. Baker immediately moved to the head of the column and together with another soldier knocked out 2 enemy bunkers. When his comrade was mortally wounded, Sgt. Baker, spotting 4 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. Moving to attack 2 additional enemy bunkers, he and another soldier drew intense enemy fire and Sgt. Baker was blown from his feet by an enemy grenade. He quickly recovered and single-handedly destroyed 1 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. When the forward element was ordered to withdraw, he carried 1 wounded man to the rear. As he returned to evacuate another soldier, he was taken under fire by snipers, but raced beyond the friendly troops to attack and kill the snipers. After evacuating the wounded man, he returned to cover the deployment of the unit. His ammunition now exhausted, he dragged 2 more of his fallen comrades to the rear. Sgt. Baker's selfless heroism, indomitable fighting spirit, and extraordinary gallantry were directly responsible for saving the lives of several of his comrades, and inflicting serious damage on the enemy. His acts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

4" x 6" signed photo

John F. Baker Jr., Medal of Honor recipient, dies at 66

By T. Rees Shapiro January 24, 2012 


John F. Baker Jr., a retired Army master sergeant who was awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War for rescuing wounded soldiers from an ambush and leading a daring counterassault, died Jan. 20 at a hospital in Columbia, S.C. He was 66.

He had a heart ailment, said his wife, Donnell Baker.

Standing 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 105 pounds, Sgt. Baker made up for his diminutive stature by building up his physique. Inspired by his father’s work as a circus trapeze artist, he joined a gymnastics squad in high school and trained on the rings, learning to execute a perfect iron cross.

Accepted by the Army during the Vietnam War — the Marine Corps said he was an inch too short — Sgt. Baker’s impressive strength helped him save the lives of his fellow soldiers.

On Nov. 5, 1966, Sgt. Baker’s unit was tasked with reinforcing a group of American soldiers pinned down near Dau Tieng, close to the Cambodian border. About 3,000 Vietnamese had taken positions in the surrounding jungle, hiding in underground bunkers and roping themselves to tree branches.


As the U.S. soldiers advanced, the lead scout was shot in the face.

The jungle erupted in enemy fire. Camouflaged machine gun positions spit bullets that whizzed by Sgt. Baker’s head. Mortar rounds thumped the ground. Snipers in the trees picked off Americans hiding on the ground.

Sgt. Baker ran toward the front with another soldier and helped destroy two enemy bunkers. During the attack, the other soldier was mortally wounded. Sgt. Baker killed four enemy snipers before carrying his comrade away from the ambush.

Returning to the battle, Sgt. Baker was blown off his feet by an enemy grenade but recovered to make repeated trips through withering fire to evacuate wounded American soldiers much larger than himself. By the end of the two-hour conflict, Sgt. Baker’s uniform was soaked in the blood of his comrades.

In all, Sgt. Baker was credited with recovering eight fallen U.S. soldiers, destroying six bunkers and killing at least 10 enemies.




As his Medal of Honor nomination was considered, Sgt. Baker spent the rest of his tour as a “tunnel rat.” Armed with a flashlight and pistol, he explored the spider- and scorpion-infested subterranean network used by Viet Cong guerillas. During one mission, he discovered a full-scale hospital complete with surgical suites buried three stories below ground.

Returning home in August 1967, Sgt. Baker served as a drill instructor. One day, he was told he had an urgent phone call. It was President Lyndon B. Johnson on the line, inviting him to the White House to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration for valor.


According to his citation, “Sgt. Baker’s selfless heroism, indomitable fighting spirit, and extraordinary gallantry were directly responsible for saving the lives of several of his comrades, and inflicting serious damage on the enemy.”

Joining Sgt. Baker at the ceremony in the East Room was his company commander, then-Capt. Robert F. Foley, who also was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the same battle that November day in 1966.

Foley, who retired from the Army as a lieutenant general in 2000, stood 6-foot-7 and played basketball at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Noticing the soldiers’ disparate heights, Johnson told Sgt. Baker and Foley that they reminded him of the cartoon characters Mutt and Jeff.

John Franklin Baker Jr. was born Oct. 30, 1945, in Davenport, Iowa, and was raised in Moline, Ill.

After being awarded the Medal of Honor, Sgt. Baker traveled the country as a recruiter. His repeated requests to be sent back to Vietnam for combat duty were denied. He retired from the military in 1989 and later worked at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Columbia, S.C.

His first marriage, to Ruth Ann Smith, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Donnell Brazil Baker of Columbia; a son from his first marriage, John F. Baker III of Fort Myers, Fla.; and two grandchildren.



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