A Cigarette, A Pistol, & Selfless Actions: The Story of MoH Recipient Tom Baker

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.  

U.S. Army Pvt. Thomas Baker

This Medal of Honor Monday, we honor a World War II soldier who lost his life 73 years ago, nearly to the day, while keeping his fellow soldiers safe.

Thomas Baker, a native of Troy, New York, joined the New York Army National Guard in 1935. He served for three years and got out, but reenlisted in 1940 as the U.S. came closer to entering World War II.

In the summer of 1944, Baker was a private with Company A, 105th Infantry, 27th Infantry Division. They were fighting in Saipan in the Mariana Islands, where Allied forces were trying to neutralize Japanese bases in the Pacific. Many times during that campaign, Baker risked his life for his company.

In the early part of the campaign, Baker took a bazooka to an entire ridge of enemy forces assaulting his company. Baker ran within 100 yards of the Japanese and used the rocket launcher to knock out their strong point, enabling his fellow soldiers to break through the line.

A few days later, as they advanced further into a field littered with enemy obstructions and hiding spots, Baker brought up the rear of his unit to protect them from surprise attacks. He came across two heavily fortified enemy positions that his company had managed to get past. He was facing 12 of the enemy, including two officers, but Baker wasn’t afraid of the numbers. He killed all of them.

A map of Saipan in the Mariana Islands

About 500 yards further, he found six more enemy combatants who had hidden, and he took them out, too.

On July 7, 1944 – two days before the Battle of Saipan ended – Baker was part of a group of men who were attacked from three sides by thousands of Japanese. Early in the fight, Baker was seriously wounded by grenade shrapnel, but he refused to get medical help. Instead, he continued to fire at the enemy, sometimes at close range, until his ammo ran out and his gun had been destroyed from hand-to-hand combat.

U.S. Army soldiers during the Battle of Saipan. National Archives photo

That’s when he finally allowed a fellow soldier to carry him to the rear of the line. But when that soldier got injured, Baker refused to be carried any further. He said he’d rather die than risk the lives of any more of his friends. So, at his request, he was placed against a small tree and given a cigarette and an eight-round pistol.

The last time anyone saw him alive, Baker was propped against that tree, ready for the enemy. His body was later found in the same position, with eight enemy soldiers lying dead in front of him. There was no more ammo in his pistol, and the cigarette was burned down to the butt.

On July 9, 1944, the American flag was raised in victory over Saipan.

For the continuous disregard of his own life, Baker was posthumously promoted from private to sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor on May 9, 1945. A weapons training facility at Fort Drum, New York, was named in his honor in 2014.

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