Black Captain America: Lt. Vernon Baker and the Castle of Death

First Liuetenant Vernon J. Baker

Isaiah Bradley
In 2003 Marvel Comics called Truth: Red, White, and Black which went into America’s Super Soldier project to create more Captain America. Variations of the project and related attempts of repeating it resulted in other heroes such as Wolverine and Luke Cage but this particular project—which mimicked the Tuskegee Experiments—resulted in Isaiah Bradley being its sole success. 

To the Black heroes in Marvel he is known as the “Black Captain America.” So in honor of this time of punching Nazis and Black History Month, let’s look at one real life Black Captain America from World War II in First Lt. Vernon J. Baker.

Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry
Born December 17, 1919 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Baker’s childhood was spent living with his grandparents after the death of his parents when he was four. As an adult, he followed his grandfather into working for the railroad as a porter, until his passing in 1939.

Following a few jobs, he would attempt to enlist in the Army but was turned away. He would return in the spring of 1941 and have better luck. Originally, he wanted to be a quartermaster but ended up in infantry. Baker would begin his training that summer at Camp Wolters.
After shipping off to Italy in the summer of 1944 with the all-Black 92nd Infantry also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, Baker was wounded in combat. He would rejoin the 92nd which was in on standby in Italy.

Fortified Zone
It would be in April 1945 that Lt. Baker was activated and would lead a platoon of 25 in taking the Nazi-held fortress of Castle Aghinolfi. The advantage the Nazis held included a very high position in the Appenine Mountains with a view of two roads that led to the castle and ran through the treacherous Gothic Line.

Castle Aghinolfi

The Gothic Line featured some 2,000 heavily fortified machine gun nest, mines, bunkers, barbed wire, and posts. So Lt. Baker and his platoon would have to make their way through this absolute meat grinder and scale the mountain that Castle Aghinolfi sat on. The regiment had tried several times to take the castle, with no success.

Lt. Baker’s first attempt at a front assault saw him lose a number of his team. He would try again this time using a measured approach that saw the platoon stay out of the enemy’s sight and sneak through defenses.

Baker managed to get what was left of his platoon in place and got back to the commanding officer over his platoon one Captain John Runyon who followed Baker and company and didn’t lead the men to this point in the mission. While getting orders from Runyon a German soldier tossed a potato masher explosive. This prompted Captain Runyon to get out of the way, alerting Lt. Baker who would take the fleeing Nazi soldier. 

With things somewhat under control—or as under control as things could get in this case—Baker would scout for hostiles.

Demolition Man
In scouting along the he would come across several defensive points held by the Nazis…and blow up their spot. By the time he was done Lt. Baker had blown up six machine gun nests, four dugouts and two posts with a combination of grenades and machine gun fire.
He would return to his platoon but his actions had alerted enemies in Castle Aghinolfi and now the Buffalo Soldiers were in a…

Bullet Hell
Fire rained down on the 92nd Infantry who were pretty much sitting ducks considering their location. By fire we’re talking mortars, bullets—everything.

Lt. Baker would find Captain Runyon hiding in a house near the foot of the castle as all the commotion went on outside. After telling Baker to get his men together, he said that he would head back for reinforcements to assist in taking the castle.

…as you may have guessed, that shit didn’t happen and he simply bounced. Not only did Runyon bounce, he said that the platoon had been wiped out. Of course, that doesn’t stop some accounts of Captain Runyon from painting him favorably.

Baker continued with the attempt to take Castle Aghinolfi and called for reinforcements in the form of bombs on specific weapons locations. When that failed he decided to hold the Nazis off for hours, knowing that backup was coming. With platoon down to six of the original 25, he decided to retreat—but things weren’t going to be so easy with the enemy knowing exactly where they were and having the best position.

He managed to draw the enemy’s fire by yelling and opening fire on them as his men retreated. When he eventually returned to the Allied front he had been shot a few times, but managed to lead a battalion soldiers the next night, this time taking the Aghinolfi the following day. It should be noted that this particular feat is the first time Black soldier led a white battalion.

Second Lieutenant Vernon Baker would spend the end of World War II in Rome as an occupying force until 1947. He wouldn’t get his commission because he didn’t have a college education and would be called back up in the 1950s for the Korean War as part of the 11th Airborne. He would retire from the military in 1968 at the rank of First Lieutenant.

While he had been awarded several honors for his service—including the Purple Heart twice, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Distinguished Service Cross among others—he wasn’t awarded the Medal of Honor initially. It wasn’t until a study in 1993 found that Black soldier were often passed over for the Medal of Honor and there was an effort to go back and correct it.

Lt. Baker would be awarded his Medal of Honor in 1997 by then President Bill Clinton making him the only Black living receiptent of the medal at the time. He would live until 2010 when he died at 90 following a second battle with cancer.

M. Swift is a long time wrestling fanatic. When he's not writing about wrestling history and other stuff he is often writing short sci-fi stories, listening to heavy metal, and playing RPGs. 
Black Captain America: Lt. Vernon Baker and the Castle of Death Black Captain America: Lt. Vernon Baker and the Castle of Death Reviewed by M. Swift on Friday, February 10, 2017 Rating: 5

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