Idaho’s Medal of Honor recipient Vernon Baker worthy of a military base named after him

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It is a well-established fact that many U. S. military bases were named to honor confederate generals of the Civil War.

What is not so well known is that those bases were named long after the Civil War by the political whims of southern politicians at the apex of the Jim Crow era.

Beginning in the 1870s, Black Americans were subjected to terrorism to suppress equality, institute voter suppression and racial segregation. In the words of West Point history professor Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, “these men committed treason to create a country dedicated to human enslavement.”

Gen. Seidule goes on to provide suggestions recommending alternative names for those bases.

His recommendation for renaming Fort Benning was Vernon Baker.

Baker enlisted in the Army in June 1941, was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943 and, as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division led his platoon with “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Of the seven Black service members belatedly awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in World War II, Vernon Baker was the only living recipient. At the 1997 White House ceremony, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell said, “I stood on the shoulders of men like Vernon Baker.”

Baker went on to serve in the 11th Airborne Division in the Korean War and retired from the Army in 1968. He served 28 years.

In 2004, I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Baker in his hometown of St. Maries, Idaho. During our brief conversation, I mentioned that my son was currently deployed in Iraq with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. At the conclusion of our conversation, he told me to tell my son, “Good luck.” His words meant a lot to me.

Earlier that year I had attended my son’s graduation from “jump school” at Fort Benning. At the time I had no idea that Harold Benning, in the words of Gen. Ty Seidule “committed treason to create a country dedicated to human enslavement.”

If Vernon Baker is chosen to be honored as a replacement for Harold Benning, please include his first name in the designation. Not doing so will obscure a person, in the words of Colin Powell, “who went before me to serve a country which was not willing to serve them.”

Ralph Sword, of Boise, is a retired professional mediator and veterans advocate.

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