On July 31, 2010, the Interstate 280 bridge connecting Iowa and Illinois was dedicated and renamed the Baker Bridge in honor of Medal of Honor recipient John F. Baker Jr.
Many recipients of the nation's highest military honor have roadways, streets and buildings named after them. But, as of the date of this dedication, Baker was the only Medal of Honor recipient to have a bridge named after him.
There were only 88 living Medal of Honor recipients when the ceremony was held in Rock Island. The Medal of Honor is awarded by Congress for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty. Baker's Medal of Honor citation credits him with "selfless heroism, indomitable fighting spirit and extraordinary gallantry" in saving the lives of fellow soldiers while his company was under intense enemy fire on Nov. 5, 1966. Baker is credited with knocking out several enemy bunkers and killing four Viet Cong snipers.
At the time of the ceremony, Baker lived in Columbia, S.C., with his wife of 27 years, Donnell. The couple met in Hawaii where Baker was stationed with the Army and she was working for entertainer Don Ho.
Family friend Col. Drew Meyerowich, who accompanied the Bakers to the dedication said: "He's not a super man, and he's not a star athlete. He's a man who performed extraordinary actions under extraordinary conditions." Three members of Baker's unit who were with him on that fateful day in 1966 also attended the bridge ceremony - Mike Marcukaitis, 64, of Kankakee, Ill.; Tom Donovan, 62, of Oxford, Ohio; and Roger Schoonover, 63, of Waterloo, Iowa.
John F. Baker Jr. was born Oct. 30, 1945, in Davenport, where he lived for eight years. He then moved to Moline, Ill, and attended the Moline High School from 1963 to 1966, where he was a gymnast. He dropped out of school before graduating to join the Army. Baker spent his career in the Army, retiring in 1989. He is the only Medal of Honor recipient from the Quad Cities.
Military service record
Baker entered the U.S. Army in Moline, Ill., serving as a private in A Company, 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry, 25th Division. In Vietnam, he took part in Operation Attleboro, a search-and-destroy operation, which began in September 1966 . Part of his role in that operation was serving as "tunnel rat", a soldier who enters the Viet Cong-held tunnels searching out the enemy and destroying their weapon and supply caches and ability to fight.
On Nov. 5, 1966, Baker and his unit were called to assist another squad who were taking enemy fire. En route, A Company began to take fire and lost their lead soldier. Together with two other soldiers, Baker took over the head of the column and assisted in destroying two enemy positions. There were moving to take two others when a hand grenade knocked Baker off his feet. With the two other soldiers wounded, Baker "single handedly" destroyed another bunker before recovering his comrades. Despite taking further fire from enemy bunkers and snipers, Baker continually fell back to replenish ammunition and take back several wounded. For these actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, along with Captain Robert F. Foley.
At a White House ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson conferred the award to Baker and Foley. These are the President's remarks: "The battlefield is the scarred and the lonely landscape of man's greatest failure. But is a place where heroes walk. Today we come here to the East Room of the White House to honor two soldiers, two soldiers who—in the same battle and at the same time—met the surpassing tests of their lives with acts of courage far beyond the call of duty. Captain Foley and Sergeant Baker fought in the same company. Now, together, they join the noblest company of them all. They fought because their Nation believed that only by honoring its commitments, and only by denying aggression its conquest, could the conditions of peace be created in Southeast Asia and the world."
Baker is quoted as having said this about his heroic actions that day: "I just did what I had to do. I was trying to help my fellow soldiers the best I could. We don't win the Medal. We are caretakers of it, and we receive it by doing what we are supposed to do."
Baker's career in the military eventually lead him to the rank of Master Sergeant.
Medal of Honor
Legion of Merit
Medal of Honor
May 1, 1968; Sergeant (then Pfc.), U.S. Army, Company A, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th
Rank and organization:
Sergeant (then Pfc.), U.S. Army, Company A, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division
Place and date:
Republic of Vietnam, November 5, 1966
Citation: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. En route to assist another unit that was engaged with the enemy, Company A came under intense enemy fire and the lead man was killed instantly. Sgt. Baker immediately moved to the head of the column and together with another soldier knocked out 2 enemy bunkers. When his comrade was mortally wounded, Sgt. Baker, spotting 4 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. Moving to attack 2 additional enemy bunkers, he and another soldier drew intense enemy fire and Sgt. Baker was blown from his feet by an enemy grenade. He quickly recovered and single-handedly destroyed 1 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. When the forward element was ordered to withdraw, he carried 1 wounded man to the rear. As he returned to evacuate another soldier, he was taken under fire by snipers, but raced beyond the friendly troops to attack and kill the snipers. After evacuating the wounded man, he returned to cover the deployment of the unit. His ammunition now exhausted, he dragged 2 more of his fallen comrades to the rear. Sgt. Baker's selfless heroism, indomitable fighting spirit, and extraordinary gallantry were directly responsible for saving the lives of several of his comrades, and inflicting serious damage on the enemy. His acts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country."
Lifelong service to country
After retirement, Baker began working as a computer analyst at a Veterans Hospital in South Carolina. Baker also served as the former vice president and is the current Sergeant-at-Arms Emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He served as a member on the Nation's Monuments and Cemeteries Committee.
Baker has also spent much of his retirement speaking to young people about the virtues of the military as a career, as well as service to community and country. Baker was quoted in the Quad-City Times saying: "This is a great country of ours. Some people can't go into the military, or won't qualify. However, they can still serve their city. You can put that spirit to work in the place you live. People can donate two years of their lives to that."
"Interview with Baker". Pritzker Military Library.
"Private John F. Baker, Jr. – Act of Valor". Iowa Medal of Honor Heroes. State Historical Society of Iowa.
"Medal of Honor recipients – Vietnam". United States Army Center of Military History, August 3, 2009.
"Bridge to carry name of Medal of Honor recipient". Quad-City Times, July 31, 2010.