The Battle of Saipan was among the most important operations in WWII’s Pacific Theatre. One soldier’s devotion left his comrades in awe and made an indelible imprint of bravery.
In June 1944, US Army embarked on a mission to drive off the Japanese forces from the Philippines, the Caroline Islands, Palau Islands and the Mariana Islands. The latter were marked as a top strategic priority since the conquest of those islands would put the US forces within the range of an air offensive against Japan and would cut communications between the headquarters of Imperial Japanese Army and its troops positioned in the south and west. Saipan was chosen as the critical point of attack.
The bombardment campaign of Saipan started on 13 June 1944. Two days later, the first troops landed on its soil. They were met with resilient resistance from the Japanese, who although startled, resolved to fight until death. They were not the only ones to be so determined, however.
Four days into the battle, Thomas Baker was advancing ahead of his unit, part of the 27th Infantry Division, clearing the way for his comrades with a bazooka. Some days later, it is recorded that he single-handedly attacked and neutralized two groups of heavily fortified enemy soldiers. By 7 July, the Japanese had nowhere to retreat, but they didn’t want to surrender either. The Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito, decided to call for the final banzai charge. More than 3,000 men, the last of the remaining able-bodied soldiers, civilians and wounded began the last desperate assault. On that day, the island was lost to the Allied forces.
During the battle, Sgt. Barker’s perimeter was attacked from three sides and he was seriously wounded. Unwilling to quit, he kept firing at the enemy until he ran out of ammunition. Wounded and unarmed, he was carried by a comrade away from the frontline. But, when he himself got injured, Thomas Baker decided not to fight for his own life anymore and risk the lives of others.
Thus he firmly insisted on being left in the field and be given a weapon. One of the retreating soldiers gave him his pistol with eight rounds of ammo. He was last seen alive propped against a tree, pistol in his hand, with a calm look on his face. His body was later found in the same position, with emptied gun and eight more bodies of Japanese lying in front of him.
Sgt. Baker was one of three US soldiers who died that day and received Medals of Honor posthumously, for their self-sacrificing service. In November 2009, a memorial dedicated to him and two other soldiers was uncovered in their hometown of Troy, New York. One of them, Lieutenant William J. O’Brien was among those who died on the very same day in Saipan and were given the Medal of Honor.