With rare exceptions, the American warfighter is known for his bravery under fire. However, some tales are so outsized as to be almost unbelievable – but they are true. This is the first article in our “American Heroes” series highlighting these stories.
The Battle of Saipan. It’s no secret that Saipan was a nasty place, culminating in a terrifying banzai charge by an estimated 5,000 Japanese soldiers.
Baker’s had already cemented his legend before the charge by charging across open terrain under enemy machine gun fire to fire a bazooka into an enemy pillbox, killing 12 men in the fortified position. He then took a rear security position as his squad advanced across open terrain. He surprised a group of 6 enemy soldiers concealed and waiting to ambush the next group of Americans to pass. He shot all 6 dead.
Several days later, Baker surprised another group of Japanese soldiers. This time it was a dozen soldiers manning a concealed machine gun, lying in wait behind American lines. Baker personally shot all 12 of the Japanese, preventing a devastating ambush.
As if those heroics weren’t legendary, the then-Private was on the front lines during that fateful bonzai charge.
Dug into a foxhole, Baker was wounded in the abdomen as he shot down scores of the enemy until he was out of ammunition. The then began using his rifle as a club against more than 10 more attackers.
Seeing Baker wounded, a fellow soldier tried to carry him back for medical aid but was shot and killed in the process. Baker decided no more Americans would die trying to save them and simply asked to be left propped up against a tree, facing the enemy.
His last known words were, “Give me your .45”. A fellow soldier complied and Baker was last seen alive propped against a tree, Colt 1911 (fully loaded with 8 rounds) in hand, calmly facing the enemy.
When the Americans repelled the banzai attack and retook the position, Baker was still there. His gun was empty and there were 8 dead Japanese in front of him.
Baker was posthumously promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor for all of his actions on Saipan. The citation reads:
When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge.
Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon two heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by two officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them.
Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them.
On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from three sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded.
At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree. Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance.
Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe.
Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.