Soldiers honor medal recipient

More and 1,000 soldiers, friends and family members lined the route of the caisson procession Friday at Fort Jackson for a memorial service for Master Sgt. John F. Baker Jr., who died Jan. 20 after collapsing at his home.

FORT JACKSON -- 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 fellow 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 won the Medal of Honor in the same battle, said Baker wasn't just there for his fellow soldiers during that battle, but also 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. "He exemplified the Army Values in all aspects of his life."

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 as he and the other soldier drew intense enemy fire.

"Sgt. Baker was blown from his feet by an enemy grenade," the citation said. "He quickly recovered and single-handedly destroyed one 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."