The Battle of Saipan was a pivotal operation in WWII's Pacific Theater. One soldier's devotion astounded his comrades and left an indelible mark of bravery.
In June 1944, the United States Army launched an operation to drive Japanese forces out of the Philippines, the Caroline Islands, Palau Islands, and the Mariana Islands.
The latter was designated as a top strategic priority because the conquest of those islands would put US forces within range of an air offensive against Japan and would disrupt communications between the Imperial Japanese Army's headquarters and its troops positioned in the south and west. Saipan was selected as the pivotal point of attack.
On June 13, 1944, the bombardment campaign against Saipan began. The initial troops set foot on its turf two days later. The Japanese, who were astonished but determined to fight to the bitter end, greeted them with tenacious resistance. But they were not the only ones who were so adamant.
Thomas Baker, a member of the 27th Infantry Division, was leading his squad four days into the war and using a bazooka to clear the path for his teammates. It is stated that he single-handedly attacked and defeated two squads of enemy soldiers who were well-defended a few days later. By July 7, the Japanese had nowhere to go yet still refused to surrender.
Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito, the Japanese commander, made the decision to order the final banzai charge. The final desperate assault was launched by more than 3,000 men, the last of the surviving soldiers in good health, as well as civilians and injured. The Allied forces lost the island on that day.
Sgt. Barker suffered significant injuries after his perimeter was hit three times during the conflict. He fired at the opposition without ceasing until he ran out of ammunition. He was taken away from the frontline by a friend while unarmed and wounded. Thomas Baker, however, made the decision to stop fighting for his life after suffering an injury to stop putting other people's lives in danger.
He strongly demanded a weapon and to be left on the field as a result. He was given a pistol with eight rounds of ammunition by one of the soldiers who were fleeing. He was last saw leaning against a tree with a gun in his hand and a composed expression on his face. Later, his body was discovered in the same spot, with his gun empty and eight more Japanese dead laying in front of him.
Sgt. Baker was one of three US soldiers who lost their lives that day and were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery. In their hometown of Troy, New York, a plaque honoring him and two other soldiers were unearthed in November 2009. Lieutenant William J. O'Brien, one of them, was among those who perished in Saipan on the same day and received the Medal of Honor.