Monday, November 11, 2013

A Real American Hero - My Dad

Captain Dean C. Baker
2nd battalion, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead), VII Corps. 1943-1945 

My dad wasn’t a hero in the Audy Murphy sense of the word, but nevertheless he was one of the many true heroes during the bloody battles of World War II. He won a Silver Star on the battlefield for “Gallantry in Action” and a purple heart for a shrapnel wound. 

As a journalist, my father could have chosen to serve his country during World War II within the Army newscorps, but he didn’t feel that was fair to all those who would be fighting on the front lines. Even though he had a new wife and two adopted daughters and another on the way, he chose the infantry. 

That’s the kind of man my dad was. 

The HBO series Band of Brothers has special meaning for me because watching it is like watching my dad fighting his way across Europe during the last years of the war. He landed at Utah Beach on D Day plus three as part of the 3rd Armored, the Spearhead Division, which lead the fight across France into Germany. Somewhere in France is where my dad earned his silver star. The award reads; 

“Lt. Baker’s platoon was given the mission of advancing in a field for the purpose of drawing enemy fire in order that their positions could be located”. 

“Rather than submit the entire platoon to enemy fire, Lt. Baker volunteered to perform the mission and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, advanced across the field in the face of heavy enemy small arms fire, thereby causing the enemy to expose their position.” 

“The courage, determination and personal bravery displayed by Lt. Baker was an inspiration to his men and reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.” 

That was my dad alright; always putting others before himself. Shortly after that, he was promoted to Captain.  

On April 11, 1945, the 3rd Armored Division liberated Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp near the town of Nordhausen. This was a work camp connected to the V2 rocket development where the prisoners were literally worked to death or left to die on their own. As my dad told it, the stench from the rotting corpses and the crematories was so great that the townspeople had to have known what was going on there. The townsmen were forced by the allies to remove the bodies of the dead and bury them in mass graves. The few remaining pitiful prisoners were treated by allied medics and evacuated. 

Toward the very end of the war in Europe, my dad was in a traffic accident and severely injured. He spent many months in hospital, and when he finally was reunited with his family, he wore a thick brace on his back. I was two at the time and was very afraid of this strange man with the odd shape. 

My dad was the only member of his original company to return alive from the war. 

My dad receiving his Silver Star medal on the battlefield from General Maurice Rose. Not long after that, General Rose was killed by a German soldier. 

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