Now that Congress wants to remove the names of Confederate Generals from U.S. military bases, our Congressional delegation should support renaming those bases to honor loyal American heroes. While Congress has allowed each military service to name its own bases, our delegation could provide powerful influence in the process. Idaho has a number of genuine heroes whose names would bring honor to some of the nation’s military bases. Veterans Day is an appropriate time to begin the discussion.
Ralph Sword of Boise has asked Idaho’s Congressional delegation to help change the name of Fort Benning in Georgia to Fort Vernon Baker. The base was named during Jim Crow days for a Confederate Civil War General who strongly opposed the abolition of slavery. On the other hand, Vernon Baker, an African American hero of World War Two (WWII), was a loyal citizen of the United States during his entire 90 years.
When Baker first tried to enlist to fight in WWII, he was turned away because of the color of his skin. He persisted and later earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for, as stated in his citation, “extraordinary heroism in action on 5 and 6 April 1945, near Viareggio, Italy.” His citation describes how Baker single-handedly wiped out three machine gun positions and several other enemy emplacements in a suicide mission against a “strongly entrenched enemy.” The medal was not actually awarded until January 1997–more than a half century late due to Baker’s skin color.
Baker also served in the Korean War, retiring from the Army in 1968. During his service, he also received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, the Combat Infantryman Badge and a number of other decorations.
Baker was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and lost his parents in an auto accident when he was four years old. He learned to hunt out of necessity–to put food on the table. His love of hunting brought him to live in Idaho in 1986, which was his home until he died at age 90 in 2010. Vernon Baker was beloved in his adopted home state and a national hero and treasure. It would be entirely appropriate for the Army to rename Fort Benning to honor Vernon’s dedicated service to the United States and his fellow citizens. Our delegation should support and encourage the renaming.
While on the topic of base names, it would also be entirely appropriate to rename Mountain Home Air Force Base to honor another genuine Idaho hero, Bernie Fisher. Bernie, a WWII and Vietnam veteran who passed away in 2014, was a warm, plain-spoken, humble soul. Just chatting with him, you wouldn’t necessarily have pictured Bernie landing his old-fashioned, propeller-driven fighter on an airstrip littered with battle debris to rescue a downed wingman amongst a hail of bullets coming from practically every direction. But that’s exactly what Bernie did.
Bernie was the first member of the U.S. Air Force to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. His heroic actions took place in March 1966 at a Special Forces camp in A Shau Valley that was surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese regulars. Bernie rescued his wingman and returned to base with 19 bullet holes in his vintage plane. During his service, Bernie received a trove of other medals, including the Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.
I had the distinct honor to work with Bernie on a committee charged with helping Vietnam veterans readjust to civilian life. He was highly dedicated to helping those who had served. It would be very appropriate to name our base in Elmore County the Bernard Fisher Air Force Base. Let our Congressional delegation know if you agree.
Please have a thoughtful day of reflection this Veterans Day, November 11, and be sure to thank our veterans for their service.