Sometimes, it takes decades or even centuries for history to right its wrongs and honor those heroes who have been long overlooked or ignored. One such hero is an infantryman who exhibited bravery and resilience during the Second World War and was an inspirational leader for generations of soldiers to come. For more than half a century after the war’s end, 1Lt. Vernon J. Baker was the sole surviving African American veteran to have received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.

It took a study commissioned by the Army years after the war to uncover the racial disparity in the selection process of the country’s most prestigious award. Shockingly, of the more than 400 Medals of Honor awarded, not a single one was given to the 1.2 million African Americans who served. Thanks to the researchers’ findings, seven African American soldiers, including Baker, were finally recommended for the country’s most prestigious military honor. Baker’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the unbreakable will to fight for what’s right, regardless of the odds.

Vernon Baker’s Pre-Enlistment Life

Vernon Baker, born in 1919, was raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming, along with his two sisters by their paternal grandparents. Unfortunately, he became an orphan at the age of four when his parents got into a tragic car accident that killed them both. Vernon, the youngest of the three, used to struggle with anger and often argued with his grandmother. Accordingly, their strained relationship pushed a young Vernon to live in a Boys’ Town in Nebraska, and he stayed there for a few years to keep a distance away from his grandmother.