Sunday, October 02, 2005

John P. Baca, Medal of Honor recipient

I am in Utah for a few days, mainly to visit my son Colin, but also to spend some time with Barney and Cindy Madsen and to watch the semiannual General Conference of the Church. Accompanied by Colin, I am at the Madsens' this weekend, where I am making this blog entry between Conference sessions.

This has been a week to contemplate valor and sacrifice, and only partly because of my having rubbed shoulders with the Medal of Honor recipients. (I'll elaborate later, either on Flickr or in another entry here.) I brought with me on this trip the Medal of Honor book I mentioned the other day, which is autographed by several dozen recipients. This morning I took it upstairs to show to Barney, who wasn't up yet, so I sat down and started reading some of the stories. I was familiar with some of them, but not all, before I went to the picnic/reception on Wednesday night.

The first story I read was that of John P. Baca, who was the first Medal recipient Vanessa and I met that evening. (I think I took his picture, but it did not turn out well enough to post.) The portrait of him that appears in the book shows him in what appears to be an attitude of prayer, sitting behind a steel-pot Army helmet with a Bible propped up against it. Baca signed his name on the opposite page and started to hand the book back to me; but I pointed to the Bible and mentioned that I read it, too. He then did something I thought was very touching; he put the book back on the table and scrawled "Phil 4:8" under his signature. That happens to be one of my favorite passages of scripture, and I allude to it in my personal profile on Flickr, if anyone is interested in looking at it.

Today I learned more about him. By his own admission, he was a juvenile delinquent during his adolescence in San Diego. (I assume he experienced some kind of religious conversion later, but the book is silent about it; one just sort of picks it up by reading between the lines.) He ended up in the Army and was sent to Vietnam. During an engagement against the North Vietnamese in February, 1970, a live hand grenade landed near Baca and the group of men with him. Baca put his helmet over the grenade -- and then threw himself over the helmet. The grenade exploded, ripping out part of Baca's intestines. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation -- assisted, I am sure, by divine intervention -- Baca left the Army and was starting college when he learned he would receive the Medal of Honor, which was awarded to him by President Richard M. Nixon on February 15, 1971.

This is someone I wish I could have the chance to get to know better. I feel that way about all of Baca's comrades, of course, but I suspect Baca himself is a class act. I think he showed that by adding the Bible reference under his signature -- after first learning that I myself was a student of the Bible. Little things mean a lot, and I think this did, too.

Other information, including some pictures and the text of his citation, may be found here.


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