During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with a look at Feb. 10, 1970 and Spec. 4 John Philip Baca of the 1st Cavalry Division.
John P. Baca’s Medal of Honor Citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Spec4 Baca, Company D, distinguished himself while serving on a recoilless rifle team during a night ambush mission A platoon from his company was sent to investigate the detonation of an automatic ambush device forward of his unit’s main position and soon came under intense enemy fire from concealed positions along the trail.
“Hearing the heavy firing from the platoon position and realizing that his recoilless rifle team could assist the members of the besieged patrol, Spec4 Baca led his team through the hail of enemy fire to a firing position within the patrol’s defensive perimeter. As they prepared to engage the enemy, a fragmentation grenade was thrown into the midst of the patrol.
“Fully aware of the danger to his comrades, Spec4 Baca unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, covered the grenade with his steel helmet and fell on it as the grenade exploded, thereby absorbing the lethal fragments and concussion with his body. His gallant action and total disregard for his personal well-being directly saved 8 men from certain serious injury or death.
“The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by Spec4 Baca, at the risk of his life, are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
In a 1982 newspaper interview — preserved as part of Sr. Veronica’s collection on Medal recipients — Baca talked about his actions as a 21-year-old in Vietnam:
“I saw [the grenade],” Baca remembered. “I don’t know if anybody else saw it. All’s I could do was think about putting my helmet on it and covering it up.”
Baca fall on the grenade and tried to get away — but the grenade went off.
“The explosion threw me on my back,” he said. “I was awake. I could see my stomach just pouring out of me. It was a numbing feeling. It was a peaceful feeling. I thought I was going to die, and I knew I would meet it in a peaceful attitude.”
Baca was flown out of the Phouc Long Province later that day … and was taken to a base hospital.
“They kept me there for two or three weeks while they sewed me back together,” he said. “I was a borderline case, but I had the will to survive.”
Baca later spent almost a year at then-Naval Hospital in San Diego to recuperate from severe internal injuries.
He received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon on June 15, 1971.
According to www.pbs.org’s American Valor series, Baca gave the following remarks at the dedication of a park named for him in Huntington Beach, Calif.:
“I am an ordinary citizen who answered my country’s call to duty and performed that duty to the very best of my ability. I pray that so naming this park will serve to instill in the minds of generations to come the idea that the liberty we enjoy must be ever so carefully guarded and when they are called upon to defend those liberties, they do so willingly, as I and so many others already have, in order that this nation, as we know it, shall not perish.”
In 1990, the web site continues, as part of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project, John Baca, along with 10 other members, went to Yen Vien, a village north of Hanoi, where they spent eight weeks building a health clinic alongside the Vietnamese.
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