It’s a playground for the young, a walk for the dog,
These grounds will be blessed by the rain and the sun, free from the smog.
A refuge for the birds vacationing south, “Let’s visit Baca’s Park.”
Soon it won’t be long for all to enjoy their song! My buddies and friends have joined me for this delight.
Some unknown evenings I may be sitting upon my bench enjoying the quiet of the night.
What is a park? A site of beauty, a place to rest.
A place to stay, leave one’s worries, also leave behind their stress of the day.
A solitude visitor can be still, enjoy the quiet of their thought.
One can hear the voices in the breeze, trees are clapping their hands, with the movement of the leaves.
All humanity can find a space. All are welcomed to a safe, you might say sacred place.
These grounds will be a witness for families, lovers and friends who picnic, play, hold hands and maybe embrace.
It will be filled with harmony and song and the smile of God’s grace.
One last thing before I depart and be on my way,
I sat on the bench and a swing in the park that was dedicated in my honor and in my name on this beautiful day.
—John Philip Baca
The above poem was written by a man who by his own account was a problem kid. He was one of those young fellows who you would not want your daughter dating. He grew up in the San Diego area, in and out of juvenile hall for a variety of petty crimes. Tried to join the Army when he was seventeen because he had served time in a California Youth Authority correctional facility, he was knocked back as he was on parole. Two years later, in 1969, he was drafted’.
In 1990, Baca returned to Vietnam with ten other soldiers of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. The group spent eight weeks working alongside former North Vietnamese Army soldiers building a health clinic in a village north of Hanoi.
This story gives some insight into the kind of character Baca possessed.
Baca rarely speaks publicly about the events for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. However, he prefers to recall an event that occurred on Christmas Day, 1969, when he was walking ahead of his unit, acting as “point,” and surprised a young North Vietnamese soldier sitting alone on top of an enemy bunker in the jungle. He saw that the soldier could not reach his rifle quickly and, not wanting to shoot him, yelled in Vietnamese for him to surrender. The two soldiers shared family pictures, Not only was he able to take his “Christmas gift” alive and unharmed, the young man, twenty years later, was among the Vietnamese that Baca worked with building the clinic in 1990.
By February 10, 1970, he was stationed in Vietnam as a Specialist Four with Company D of the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. On that day, in Phuoc Long Province, he was serving on a recoilless rifle team when the lead platoon of his company was ambushed. Baca led his team forward through intense fire to reach the besieged platoon. When a fragmentation grenade was tossed into their midst, he “unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety,” covered it with his helmet and then laid his body over the helmet, smothering the blast and saving eight fellow soldiers from severe injury or death. Baca survived his wounds and was formally awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard M. Nixon on March 2, 1971. Two other soldiers in Company D, Allen J. Lynch and Rodney J. Evans, had previously earned the medal.
After being treated in Long Binh for a week, he was sent to a hospital in Japan. His mother told that he might survive, flew to his bedside and stayed with him for a few weeks, then accompanied him back to the States in late April. Over the next several months, he continued to improve, although he wound up in intensive care on two occasions.
Baca returned to Vietnam in 1990 and worked for two months alongside former enemy soldiers to build a United States-Vietnam friendship clinic.
Medal of Honor
Awarded for actions during the Vietnam War
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Specialist Fourth Class John Philip Baca, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 10 February 1970, in Quan Loi Province, Republic of Vietnam. Specialist Fourth Class Baca, Company D, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, 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, Specialist Fourth Class 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, Specialist Fourth Class 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 eight men from certain serious injury or death. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by Specialist Fourth Class 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 United States Army.
General Orders: Department of the Army, General Orders No. 37 (July 16, 1971)
Action Date: February 10, 1970
Rank: Specialist Fourth Class
Company: Company D
Battalion: 1st Battalion
Regiment: 12th Cavalry Regiment
Division: 1st Cavalry Division
// Richard M. Nixon // President
Far too often I hear people who are at least on the surface spirituality strong and caring people, when they hear a story about a criminal often their first comment is we should throw away the key. I wonder what would have happened to the soldiers whose life’s Baca saved on February 10th 1970, had the key been thrown away. Wonder how these good religious people would feel about their daughter bringing Baca home today.
Baca remains active in social causes, particularly related to Vietnam veterans issues and the plight of the homeless.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.