Thomas A. Baker – The Battle for Saipan | Medal of Honor Monday
September 26, 2016 joedemadio 0 Comments
Hey Guys Joedemadio here with another Medal of Honor Monday! I’d like to talk about a story that took place in the Pacific. I think this story is very inspiring and should be known by others. Today we’re taking a closer look at the Island of Saipan.
The island was of very strategic value for the US command. It’s about 1300 miles south of the Japanese home islands and it’s one of the islands in the Marianas chain. It’s size, not that big, is only about 5 miles wide to 18 miles long and has the shape of a pistol. One reason for its strategic value was the role of being major supply route between the Japanese home islands and the Japanese garrisons in the Central Pacific. Second, the island had an airfield that provided a major staging area for Japanese air attacks on the American Fleet operating in the Central Pacific. And third, the island would give the United States a base so that they could launch air attacks against Tokyo and the Japanese Home Islands.
This means two things: One, the United States was going to attack and capture the island. And two, the Japanese would not just give it up.
The attack on Saipan began on June 15th 1944. For this attack three divisions were used. The 2nd and 4th Marine Division, and the 27th Infantry Division.
The soldier we are going to cover today was in the 27th Infantry Division. His name is Thomas Baker, he was in A Company, 1st battalion, of the 105th Infantry Regiment. Before we continue I’d like to give a brief history about Baker. Thomas A Baker was born on June 25th 1916 in Troy, New York. After graduating high school, he decided to join the US Army from here in October 1940 and received his basic training. At this point Baker was 24 years old. On June 16th 1944, together with his division, he landed on Saipan at Agingan Point on the most southwest coast of the island, as you can see on the map. His regiment supported another regiment in the capture of Aslito Airfield. The 105th then moved east of the airfield where the men dug in for the night.
In the early morning of June 19th, the 1st battalion continued their attack toward Nafutan Point, which is Naftan point on the map. At Ridge 300, also on the map, the 1st Battalion ran into heavy Japenese machine-gun fire. As you can see, current day there’s a big quarry at ridge 300. Colonel O’Brien, commander of 1st Battalion, obtained permission to shift the attack from west of the ridge to the north of the ridge so that he would be able to use American Tank support and perhaps outflank the Japanese on the ridge. Late in the afternoon of the 19th of June, 1st Battalion, supported by tanks, began its attack but soon came to a halt, so Colonel O’Brien decided to dig in for the night.
Sergeant Thomas Baker of A Company, the person that our Medal of Honor Monday is about, moved out of his position towards the ridge and observed the location of several of the enemy’s positions. He then borrowed a bazooka from one of his comrades and, under heavy enemy fire, walked into the field, calmly knelt down and fired his weapon into an enemy gun position, which he knocked out with a second round. He then walked back to his company with Japanese bullets flying around him.
The second phase of the Saipan battle began on June 21st. Here the division was ordered northward and attack up the center of the Island.
On July 6th, the 1st and 2nd battalion of the 105th found themselves near Tanapag and they had a smaller defensive position closer up north near Makunsha. During the evening the Japanese began patrolling the perimeter for weak spots. They continued to do so until 4:45am on July 7th. Then they launched a gyokusai attack. It meant that the Japanese were launching a big suicide attack of an estimated 4000 soldiers. It is on this event that our Sergeant Thomas Baker from A Company, earned his Medal of Honor.
His medal of honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Mariana Islands, 19 June to 7 July 1944. When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge.”
This is Ridge 300 we talked about earlier.
“Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon 2 heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by 2 officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them. Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them. On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from 3 sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded. At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree. Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army. “
In November 2009, a memorial was erected in the Rensselaer County office building which honored Baker and fellow Troy Natives Major General Odgen J Ross and Lieutenant Colonel William O’Brien, the commander of 1st Battalion who also received a medal of honor for his actions.
The Battle of Saipan resulted in a devastating defeat for the Japanese Army with around 30.000 dead Japanese Soldiers. On the US Side there were about 14.000 casualties
I found Baker’s story very inspiring, because of his sacrifice. His story definitely needs to be told to the world. Current day Saipan, looks so peaceful and friendly. I wonder if the people know there what happened back then. A fun fact is that on the beach where 27th Infantry came ashore, right now stands a golf club resort.
If you think this story needs to be told to the world, please share this article on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter for more articles like this. Thanks for watching, salute and see you next week, bye bye!