By Colonel Eric Robyn, Aide to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 1983-1985
A Day with Sergeant John Baker,
Medal of Honor Recipient
As a Field Artillery Battery Commander assigned at Herzo Base (a former Luftwaffe base near Erlangen and Nuremberg) in Germany in 1973, I was used to preparing for, and enduring, all manner of inspections and visits from higher headquarters routinely. One inspection that always added stress to my life was the old-fashioned, compliance-oriented Annual Inspector General (IG) Inspection, made especially stressful because my unit was a nuclear-armed Honest John Rocket firing battery. Every aspect of the battery would be scrutinized in detail: not only soldiers, weapons, equipment, barracks, and vehicles, but also all written training records, manuals, forms, and files had to be in perfect order.
About a month prior to one of those IG inspections in 1973, a new soldier was assigned to my battery as Training NCO. His name was SGT John Baker.
SGT Baker had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH) in 1968 for actions in Vietnam on 5 November 1966. In fact, his company commander, CPT Robert Foley (USMA ’63), was also awarded the MOH for actions that same day. SGT Baker told me that when President Lyndon Johnson made the presentations, he looked down at SGT Baker, at 5’2” the shortest MOH recipient, and up at CPT Foley, at 6”7’ the tallest MOH recipient, and exclaimed, “You two look like Mutt & Jeff!”
Knowing that a dreaded Inspector General (IG) Inspection was coming up, and painfully aware of how many training aids and various updated training publications we needed, I planned a trip to the USAREUR Publications and Training Aids Center in Frankfurt. I asked SGT Baker to compile a list of everything we needed, and invited him to accompany me. In those days, we wore fatigues every day, so I was surprised when SGT Baker hopped into my car the next day wearing his Army Greens with the distinctive Medal of Honor ribbon showing five white stars on a field of blue. Noticing my puzzled look, he said, “Don’t worry, Sir, you’ll see.” During our long drive to and from Frankfurt, we had plenty of time to talk and of course, he told the story of that day in November 1966. His citation for valor is well worth reading: http://homeofheroes.com/moh/citations_living/vn_a_baker.html.
When we arrived at the huge supply warehouse, manned primarily by active and retired NCOs, I confidently strode up to the counter and handed my long requisition list to the NCO in charge. He took my list, and looking it over, said it would take some time to gather all the materials and to prepare for a long wait because they were very busy that day. SGT Baker, who had been standing unseen behind me, then stepped to my right and up to the counter. I watched the look of complete surprise on the face of the NCO and others standing around as they recognized the venerable blue ribbon. They immediately came to attention and asked SGT Baker how they could be of service to him. When SGT Baker said he was with me and we needed the materials on the list right away, the response was awe-inspiring: “Not a problem, Sergeant, we’ll get everything right away! What else can we do to help you?” Not that I needed to be reminded of this simple fact, but that day I pleasantly observed how the MOH trumps a captain’s bars. With SGT Baker’s quiet – but visible – assistance, we returned with more than we needed and did well on the IG inspection.
Although short in height, SGT Baker was agile and physically strong. He was quiet, respectful, punctual, hard working, and dedicated to the Army and my battery. To this day, I don’t know how he ended up in my unit, but I was, and am, very thankful for him!