Strangers find war hero behind abandoned World War II medals

12:48 AM, Mar 8, 2013   |    comments
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FRIDLEY, Minn. - A Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a chance meeting brought two Twin Cities strangers together to rightfully remember a World War II hero.

Jon Strupp, of Fridley, wrote a book about his father's Navy service in WWII, but his most rewarding chapter came by chance, when he met Denise Baker, of Blaine, on a bus on the way to work in downtown Minneapolis last year.

He noticed a familiar pin on her lapel and struck up a conversation. "And I said to her, are those are a pair of World War II gunners' wings?" said Strupp. "I went, how do you know that?

It was such a surprise, we started talking," said Baker, of Blaine.

It turns out Denise Baker shared the same passion for veterans' service.

Her uncle was a waist gunner on a B-17, and killed in World War II at the age of 19.

Baker told Strupp about two abandoned medals she found in Minneapolis storage facility where she once worked.

They were engraved with the name, Staff Sgt. Fred W.T. Baker, even though she shared the same last name, the war hero wasn't related to her family.

"For some odd reason, I put them away in a cupboard. The significance, my uncle and everything else, you should never throw these things away, they should always go back to the original owners," she said. "Anything you can do for the veterans, that is how it should be."

Baker says she found many abandoned military medals at the storage facility, and returned them to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but for some reason she held on to Staff Sgt. Baker's Silver Star and Purple Heart.

Two decades passed, and she was unable to learn any more about the brave man behind the medals. "It stood out to me because this is the third highest award this country offers for valor. And it's important," said Strupp.

So Strupp began to research online, and found a glimpse of valor. "He was on a mission to save a bridge, he went 70 miles behind enemy lines, "said Strupp, who also learned Staff Sgt. Baker saved his commanding officer against orders, but not long after was killed by sniper on September 1, 1944 in Thionville, France at the age of 23.

"This is above and beyond the call of duty to me," said Strupp, who believes Staff Sgt. Baker's actions that day were worthy of a Congressional Medal of Honor.

Through his research, Strupp also learned Staff Sgt. Baker was from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and when he contacted the local Argus Leader newspaper, an article published eventually led him to Staff Sgt. Baker's great nephew.

"We had a lot of help, we were lucky," said Strupp, fighting back tears. For all Staff Sgt. Baker sacrificed, Strupp and Denise Baker say bringing him home will be their honor.

They are in contact with his family and plan to return the medals to South Dakota with dignity, with a memorial and ceremony in the works.

"When you found out someone gave their life, he was 23. My dad came home, and he was 81 when he died." said Strupp. "Baker is not forgotten."

It's still unclear how Staff Sgt. Baker's military awards ended up in Minnesota. The medals were possibly left behind by a relative.

Staff Sgt. Fred W.T. Baker is buried at the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial in northern France.

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