This Day in History: Thomas A. Baker’s bravery during a banzai charge
On this day in 1916, a future Medal of Honor recipient is born. You won’t believe what Private Thomas A. Baker accomplished with only eight bullets during the World War II Battle of Saipan.
That battle was just one of several bloody battles fought in the Pacific in 1944. The Japanese were losing, but they refused to surrender. Finally, nearly a month into the battle, they threw everything they had at the Americans still on the island: Thousands of Japanese soldiers would make one last banzai charge.
Baker performed several acts of heroism during the month-long battle—but his final brave self-sacrifice came during that final banzai attack.
Just four days into the battle, Baker’s company found itself pinned down by Japanese fire. Perhaps the Japanese hadn’t counted on courage such as that shown by Baker? Then-Private Baker grabbed a bazooka and dashed, all alone, to the Japanese machine gun nest that was causing all the trouble. He fired into the nest, taking it out and clearing the way for his company to continue its assault.
A few days later, Baker’s company was trying to work its way across an open field. Private Baker was determined to flush out any Japanese who might be concealed nearby, and he positioned himself accordingly. His Medal citation describes the two “heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by 2 officers and 10 enlisted men” that Baker found. “Without regard for such superior numbers,” the citation continues, “he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them.”
His final act of heroism came on July 7, during the final banzai attack. Baker was wounded early on, but he kept fighting. Finally, someone made an attempt to evacuate him. Unfortunately, the soldier who had been trying to help Baker was, himself, wounded during the attempt. Baker didn’t like that. Not one tiny bit.
“Get the hell away from me!” he reportedly told the next soldier who tried to help him. “I’ve caused enough problems. Gimme your .45.”
Baker did not want to be rescued if it meant that others would die. Instead, he was left, propped up against a tree, holding that single gun. It had 8 bullets in it the last time he was seen alive.
The next day, his comrades had gained ground and were able to come back for him. Baker was found dead, still propped up against that same tree. The only difference? His gun was empty and eight Japanese soldiers lay dead in his vicinity.
Baker had gone out fighting.
The Private would be posthumously promoted to Sergeant. He also received the Medal of Honor for his bravery during those weeks on Saipan.
Medal of Honor citation (Thomas A. Baker; WWII)
Pablo Villa, This Month in NCO History: July 7, 1944 — To the end at the Battle of Saipan (NCO Journal; July 10, 2014)
Starr Sinton & Robert Hargis, World War II Medal of Honor Recipients (2): Army & Air Corps (2003)