Jesse Rutledge Baker

War: Vietnam

Class: 1965

Major: Civil Engineering

Activities and Sports while at Clemson: American Society of Civil Engineers, 4; Pershing Rifles, 2

Home Town: Whitmire, SC

Service: USMC

Rank: Second Lieutenant

Unit: B Company, 7th Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force

Date of Death: August 18, 1967. Lt Baker’s body was recovered and was buried in the Whitmire Cemetery, Whitmire, SC.

Details of Death: Killed in Action.  Lt Baker was mortally wounded when the jeep in which he was a passenger detonated a box mine in a road near Da Nang in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.  The driver of the jeep was wounded and required aeromedical evacuation, but survived the incident.

Awards / Citations: Bronze Star with One Gold Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm, Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

Other: Lt Baker’s name is listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC on Panel 25E, Line 010.

The family of Lt Baker has endowed a bench in the Scroll of Honor Memorial Park in his honor.

The following was taken from an obituary article printed in the State Newspaper, Columbia, SC on August 27, 1967, Page 8C, and was researched and provided on 3 November 2009 courtesy of Ms Debbie Bloom, Local History Manager, Richland County Library, Columbia, SC.

Vietnam Victim’s Rites Set

Lt Jesse Rutledge Baker, 23, USMC, was killed in action Friday, August 18 in Da Nang, Vietnam.  Lt Baker was born and reared in Whitmire, son of Elmer R. and Louis Bell Baker.  He was a graduate of Whitmire High in 1962 and was a member of the football team, the track team, and was presented several honors and medals in sportsmanship. He was an Eagle Scout and an Explorer Scout. Lt Baker was a graduate of Clemson University in the engineering class of 1966.  At Clemson, he was a member of the Pershing Rifles Drill Team and, during summer vacation, received Marine training at Quantico Marine Base.  Prior to entering the service, he was with his father in W. E. Baker & Son Construction Co.

He entered active service in June 1966 and was stationed at Quantico, Camp Lejeune, and Camp Pendleton.  In Vietnam, he was serving with B Company of the 7th Engineer Battalion and was in his Jeep when it struck a mine, causing his death.

A bridge over the Vinh Dinh River was built by a B Company platoon of engineers under command of Lt Baker.  Located a few miles south of Da Nang, it is the longest permanent bridge (300 feet) that the Marines have built in Vietnam.  Lt Baker named it the “Cooper” Bridge in honor of the first Marine killed by sniper fire while working on the bridge.  Several lost their lives to snipers during the two months of construction. It was formally opened July 17.

Surviving are his parents, Mr and Mrs E. R. Baker, Whitmire; one brother, William Edgar Baker, Whitmire; two sisters, Mrs Glenn Huff, Greenville, and Miss Trudy Baker of the home, and grandmothers, Mrs W. E. Baker, Whitmire, and Mrs J. R. Bell, Due West.

Services will be at Whitmire Methodist Church with interment with full military rites.


Personal Remembrances and Tributes:

"There are many, many stories I could tell, but the best one is how Jesse became a Marine.  Our company, W. E. Baker & Son, is a commercial contractor.  Jesse always wanted to expand into bridge construction so he hired on with a bridge crew during school breaks.  One day they were removing the cribbing from under a bridge after the concrete pour. The scaffolding being used fell and Jesse fell onto the pile of lumber, landing on his back.

He was taken to Greenville General Hospital.  When we arrived his doctor informed us that he would never walk again due to a broken back, but Jesse said the doctor did not know what he was talking about. After months of rehab, he was up and walking.  He never mentioned the pain but we knew he hurt continuously. About six months later he decided to change from Army ROTC at Clemson to the Marines.  Jesse never backed down from a fight as his strength was much greater than his 5-8, 160 lbs would lead you to believe.

He went to Greenville to sign up for the Marines.  Once he completed the paper work, he was asked to come back in two weeks so the recruiter could check all records. On returning, the recruiter informed him his request had been denied due to his medical record with a broken back.  The conversation from there went something like this:

Jesse: What can I do to convince you that my back is OK?
Recruiter: Actually, with your record, there is nothing you can do.
Jesse: If I can throw you on your back would you believe me?
Recruiter: Jesse, get real!! You have a broken back and I am a Marine. You cannot do it!!
Jesse: If I can, will you sign me up?
Recruiter: OK, if you can throw me, I will sign the papers before you leave.

As they stood up, Jesse put him on the floor before he knew what hit him!!
He walked out with his signed papers!!"

Edgar Baker
Brother
Whitmire, SC
December 22, 2009
 

"Jesse was one of the good guys, the guys you like to know.  It has been a long time and my remembrances are faded.  I remember "Bake" as a jaunty kind of guy, and he looked Marine even then.  Quick to smile, but generally quiet."

Frank Slocum
College Friend
Crawfordville, IN
December 17, 2009

"In March, 1967, I arrived in Vietnam an 18 year old green recruit filled with U.S. Marine bravado yet extremely anxious about the year ahead.  I received my assignment to Bravo Company, 7th Engineers of the 1st Marine Division and was organizing my combat gear when a Lieutenant approached.  I snapped to attention as Marines are trained to do but with a wave of his hand he said “Don't worry about that, sit down and let’s talk”.  He identified himself as Lt. Baker and indicated he had noticed in my file that I was from Lake City, Florida.  Jesse had attended Clemson University and was good friends with Joe Roberts, also from Lake City, and had visited the family on several occasions.  I graduated high school with Joe's brother so we had an enjoyable conversation about Lake City and Jesse gave me some advice on what lay ahead for me.

As I was assigned to a different platoon than Lt. Baker, I only saw him occasionally over the next few months but he was always smiling and would make some joke about how anyone from Lake City could expect to be successful in the Marine Corps.  I appreciated his humor and was grateful for his past advice as it kept me out of harm’s way on several occasions.  This was typical of the relationship Jesse had with the other enlisted men, yet he commanded and received the willing respect of those Marines. I was deeply saddened to hear of his death on August the 18th but will always remember him as the compassionate leader and gallant Marine he was."

Floyd Rentz
Milton, FL
December 19, 2009

"There are many Marines who served with Jesse who cherish his memory.  Not only a respected Marine Officer, but a very good person and friend to all of us.  I was a member of B Company, 1st platoon. Lt. Baker was in command of the 3rd platoon.  Despite having a rotation of platoon officers, most of the Company knew and liked Jesse.

My platoon was working at a dam site, south of Da Nang, when we happened to have a bulldozer stuck in a muddy area.  Despite the operator's best efforts, it could not be extricated.  Jesse happened to be near us and came by to assist.  Due to his construction background, he was able to work this piece of heavy equipment free of the quagmire.  Within perhaps an hour later, his jeep hit a land mine (IED) and he was killed.

I happened to take some photos at the time and believe these are probably the last ones made before his death.  His driver, Fred Sachs, was badly injured and none of us knew his fate.  Over the last several years, I have attended several of the 7th Engineer Bn. reunions.  In Washington, DC, I again met Fred Sachs who is now a successful practicing attorney.  Fred related he is doing well, but has been affected his entire life by the events of that day and the loss of Jesse Baker.  Any loss of a Marine brother is painful, but especially when we knew and loved one.

I have also gained further insight into our service by conversation with our late Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Dick Phaneuf.  Dick was a very fine (Mustang) officer who was active in our Association and is greatly missed by us.  He had nothing but very kind words and funny stories in regard to Jesse."

Charles (Chuck) Holland
Hoover, AL
December 19, 2009

"During the summer of 1967, I was assigned as radioman for Lt. Baker's 3rd Plt., B Co., 7th Engineer's and was with him on a daily basis during the sweeps and clearing of the Anderson trail area and the construction of Cooper Bridge over the Vinh Dinh River that pierced the Viet Cong stronghold between 2/1 and 1/1 TAOR.  During this period B Co. was hit on a daily basis by VC snipers and mines and had suffered numerous casualties.  One incident I recall was on 13 May 1967 when 3rd Plt was hit by VC Gunfire and Cpl Cooper (KIA) was shot at the site of the bridge later named after him and Lt. Baker was one of the Marine's who exposed himself to enemy fire in an effort to get Cooper out of the exposed river area to shore for Med Evac.  This action was typical for Lt. Baker who always led from the front and was respected and admired by all who served with him.  I do know that Lt. Baker received the Bronze Star for his actions that summer.  I had the honor of visiting Jesse's parents during the early 90's in Whitmire, South Carolina.  His dad had a little memorial room with Jesse's Bronze Star and medals in the office of his hardware store.  Jesse's parents were both wonderful people and it was easy to see where Jesse got his outstanding qualities. Unfortunately both his parents have passed away, but at least they are with their son once again.  Our Commander, Dick Phaneuf, was very close to Lt. Baker but he also recently passed away and is mustering with Jesse once again.  I am sure I speak for all who served with Lt. Baker that there is not a day that goes by that our thoughts do not return to that far away land and time where we had the honor to serve and fight with this special Marine and leader who is with us daily in our thoughts and prayers.  Jesse was a true patriot and a "Marine's Marine."

Semper Fi,
Pete Conley
South Portland, Maine
December 19, 2009

"I arrived as a 2nd Lt assigned to A Co in mid August 1967.  Being a UNC-Chapel Hill grad and from Charlotte, I was looking forward to meeting Jess, since he was a Clemson grad.  Unfortunately, Lt Col. Funderburk, a native of Monroe, NC and our CO at the time, told me the story of the mine as I was joining the Battalion.  One story that I recall was that Jess put on a white T-shirt while he and his troops were working on a bridge below Hai Van Pass. They had had some snipers in the area, so he thought he would attract more attention than his men and make a better target than his men.  Never got hit and finished the job.  He was a fearless leader and the troops loved him---an outstanding Marine.  I think he received a Bronze Star, but don't know the details."

Craig Wardlaw
Charlotte, NC
December 21, 2009

"I did not know Lt. Baker, I can honestly say that I have had many Marines approach me with many comments about the Memorial that I do for our group.  Many comments are made about one individual (KIA) or another.  Some are not good.  Every Marine who has had contact with Jesse Baker that I have been associated with, to a man, the words were the same, "A Marine's Marine."  I consider it my loss not to have crossed paths with Lt. Jesse Baker."

Dave Haunty
Butler, PA
December 21, 2009


The following were copied with permission from the Bravo Company, 7th Engineer Battalion website maintained by Floyd Rentz, 7th Engr Bn veteran who served with Lt Baker in Vietnam.
 
From the 7th Engineer Battalion Website Memorial Page to Lt Jesse Baker:  "Lt Baker always wore a white T-shirt to denote he was an officer.  He also wore it in hopes of drawing fire so the Battalion’s machine gunners could spot the muzzle flashes.  Through many close calls, he was never hit."

Original Author Unknown


"Up at the Da Nang airfield in a storage yard on the Air Force side, there was this wing for an O-1 Bird Dog leaning up against the fence along the road.  I drove by it several times but one day, Jesse Baker came home with it in the back of a dump truck. "Good Trading Material" he boasted and the thing sat around our equipment lot for weeks.  One day, a chopper landed and the crew chief ran over and asked me if that was my wing.  He went on to say that they had a couple of Bird Dogs deadlined and could really use it.  When the deal was done, we had a couple of pallets of plywood which ended up being used to floor all the hooches in our new camp."

Dick Phaneuf, Lt Col, USMC Ret
Commander, B Company, 7th Engr Bn
Da Nang, South Vietnam, Mar-Sep ‘67

"I've been doing some thinking recently about Vietnam. In the last few years, I seem to need to remember those who were lost. I didn't know Jesse Baker had been killed until some time ago when I was in DC and just happened to look down and see his name on the Wall. I ran into him just a few times around Nam during the early summer of '67 when I was a young LT new in Vietnam, but I recall him very well - he and I had a good time talking, as I was from Cheraw, SC, and he was from not too far away in Whitmire. We also had a good time kidding each other about Carolina and Clemson, as in those days the rivalry was pretty intense. We promised to look each other up sometime when we got home - but you know how things go. I just never got back to SC much. I was 3rd Platoon Cdr and XO, H/2/7 1967 -1968; a lot of the time we were over on the hills around the Cu De River, though later the Company went down to Liberty Bridge. I was sad to see Jesse Baker's name, and not know for all those years he'd been killed. I just wanted to say Semper Fi and Best Wishes to the members of your Company."

Tom Wannamaker
Arcola, Illinois


The following tribute was copied with the approval and provided courtesy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Page, www.thewall-usa.com.

"I was born way after your departure from this earth but I learned of you and your endeavors.  I am a part of Clemson University's Pershing Rifles Company C-4 as you once were and I publicly honored you on November 11, 2006 in Memorial Stadium.  There is no way I will ever fully understand your sacrifice but I will always try.  I will continue to enjoy my days here at Clemson and hopefully become a man as prestigious as you are. Thank you, sir."

Patrick Lowery
Clemson, SC
January 29, 2007

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