Nightly News   |  July 14, 2010

Medal of Honor recipient Vernon Baker dies

Vernon Baker, a Medal of Honor recipient who fought the Nazis in Italy as part of an all-black unit in the U.S. Army, died Wednesday. He was 90. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We mentioned this story earlier. Vernon Baker died today. He was a recipient of the Medal of Honor . He fought and fought hard for his country, even though his country didn't want him fighting alongside some others in the Army under the same flag. Vernon Baker was black. He was assigned to an all-black unit that wound up fighting the Nazis in Italy , and Vernon Baker fought like few others. He was a product of Cheyenne , Wyoming , who quit his job as a railroad porter because he didn't like how he was treated. He then joined the segregated US Army and completed Officer Candidate School , serving in the first all-black unit to enter combat in World War II , where he just wanted to fight like everybody else .

Mr. VERNON BAKER: We had two legs and two arms and a brain just like everybody else , except the outward color of our skin was different. But we fought just like everybody else .

WILLIAMS: In April of 1945 , in Italy , Vernon Baker killed nine German soldiers single-handedly and took out a machine gun nest that was directing fire on his men. He lost most of his platoon. Baker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day. But then, over 50 years later, after the Pentagon looked back over the service records of decorated African-American soldiers, President Bill Clinton corrected the record, presenting the Medal of Honor to seven men who had served. Baker was the only one still alive.

Mr. BAKER: I don't consider myself a hero. I consider myself a good soldier. That was it.

WILLIAMS: After coming back from the war and for the rest of his life, really, Vernon Baker struggled with the question of why he survived. And, like other recipients, he said he accepted that medal for those who did not. His death, by the way, leaves 89 living recipients of the Medal of Honor . Vernon Baker