What We Remember on Memorial Day

Some things too important to forget are still sometimes forgotten. Remembering can require intentional effort and focus, which is why we celebrate Memorial Day.

Thomas Baker, and Thomas Wigle never met one another. Baker was born in Troy, New York in 1916. Wigle was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1909. They shared a name but little else until they died. Their lives had different beginnings and back stories but similar endings. Both gave their lives for their country and were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Here are their stories.

Thomas Baker was a private when his company sailed from Pearl Harbor on June 5, 1944, the day before fellow soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. His company’s destination was the Mariana Islands, one of the island chains still under Japanese control. He was an active participant in the battle for Saipan, a battle that lasted for 24 days. From his Medal of Honor Citation-

On June 19, 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, Private 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. 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

Thomas W. Wigle moved with his family to Detroit when he was a boy. He was a violinist and a music teacher who also worked as an airplane mechanic. When World War II broke out he joined the army, completing basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. In September 1944 he found himself in Monte Frassino, Italy. It was there that he displayed the incredible bravery that earned the Medal of Honor. From his Medal of Honor Citation-

His 3d Platoon, in attempting to seize a strongly fortified hill position protected by 3 parallel high terraced stone walls, was twice thrown back by the withering crossfire. 2d Lt. Wigle, acting company executive, observing that the platoon was without an officer, volunteered to command it on the next attack. Leading his men up the bare, rocky slopes through intense and concentrated fire, he succeeded in reaching the first of the stone walls. Having himself boosted to the top and perching there in full view of the enemy, he drew and returned their fire while his men helped each other up and over. Following the same method, he successfully negotiated the second. Upon reaching the top of the third wall, he faced 3 houses which were the key point of the enemy defense. Ordering his men to cover him, he made a dash through a hail of machine-pistol fire to reach the nearest house. Firing his carbine as he entered, he drove the enemy before him out of the back door and into the second house. Following closely on the heels of the foe, he drove them from this house into the third where they took refuge in the cellar. When his men rejoined him, they found him mortally wounded on the cellar stairs which he had started to descend to force the surrender of the enemy. His heroic action resulted in the capture of 36 German soldiers and the seizure of the strongpoint.

I live free today because of the deaths of men like Thomas Baker and Thomas Wigle. Reading of their sacrifices brings me a greater appreciation of the gift of being born an American. As part of your Memorial Day celebration, why not take a moment to read the stories of other Americans who have died on your behalf? The stories of the over 3400 recipients of the Medal of Honor can be found online by clicking- http://www.history.army.mil/moh/ you will be glad you did. 

- Bart