FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Friends, family and fellow military members gathered Friday to remember retired Army Master Sgt. John F. Baker Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of eight soldiers in a 1966 firefight with the Viet Cong.
Baker died Jan. 20 at age 66 after collapsing at his home in Columbia. A caisson procession preceded the ceremony at the Fort Jackson Post Theater.
The Davenport, Iowa, native earned the nation’s highest award for valor in combat while serving as a private first class with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment.
After his unit was ambushed, Baker saved his comrades but also knocked out six Viet Cong machine gun bunkers and killed 10 enemy soldiers.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, who was also awarded the Medal of Honor for the same battle, said Baker was there for his fellow soldiers throughout his life.
“Nobody had to explain to him the meaning of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. These values were part of his basic character,” Foley said.
Baker was a frequent visitor to Fort Jackson and supported events on the Army training installation, said its commander, Maj. Gen. James Milano.
“We lost a true American hero who was a wonderful role model for all of us,” the two-star general said in a statement.
According to Baker’s citation, his unit was attempting to assist another unit 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 said. “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.”
With another soldier, Baker attacked two more enemy bunkers under intense enemy fire. Baker continued to rescue his fellow soldiers.
Baker is the second of Columbia’s Medal of Honor recipients to have died in recent months. Retired Army Col. Charles P. Murray died Aug. 12 at age 89.