Lieutenant Colonel Addison Earl Baker (January 1, 1907 – August 1, 1943) was commander of the 93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) in the U.S. Army Air Forces who led the group on the low-altitude Allied bombing mission of oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, Operation Tidal Wave. For his actions during World War II he received the United States of America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
Baker joined the Army Air Corps from Akron, Ohio in 1929, and earned his wings and a commission in 1931.
On August 1, 1943, the 93rd Bomb Group, one of three from the Eighth Air Force sent to the Ninth Air Force especially for this mission, took to the air at Benghazi, Libya. Piloting Hell’s Wench, a B-24 Liberator (Serial 42-40994), Baker led the 93rd as the second formation in the five-group mission of 177 aircraft. Co-piloting the aircraft was a volunteer and former member of the 93rd, Major John L. Jerstad.
En route the aircraft carrying the mission navigator crashed at sea. As a result, when the force reached the target area, the lead group turned at the wrong point and flew towards Bucharest. Baker attempted to warn the mission commander of this error, but when that failed, led the remainder of the force to the correct turning point. Hell’s Wench was in flames and had been seriously damaged by German anti-aircraft guns but Baker maintained formation and bombed his target. Subsequently, Baker broke formation to avoid a mid-air collision with bombers from the lead group, now arriving in the target area from the opposite direction. He attempted to gain altitude so that his crew could escape by parachute, but despite his efforts, Hell’s Wench crashed and exploded, killing Baker and the other nine airmen aboard.
For his actions that day, Lieutenant Colonel Addison Baker was recommended for the Medal of Honor. An article in Air Force magazine by W. J. Byrne, states his recommendation was held up for nearly a year in committee, with many members stating that because he broke radio silence and ignored orders, his conduct did not rise to that necessary for the award. The award was approved, and in 1944, the award was recognized.
Although his body was never recovered he was given a memorial site in Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, Florence, Italy.
Article Courtesy of Hawaii Reporter Newspaper By Duane Allen Vachon, PH.D.
MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on 1 August 1943. On this date Lt. Col. Addison E. Baker led his command, the 93rd Heavy Bombardment Group, on a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Romania. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit by a large caliber antiaircraft shell, seriously damaged and set on fire. Ignoring the fact he was flying over terrain suitable for safe landing, he refused to jeopardize the mission by breaking up the lead formation and continued unswervingly to lead his group to the target upon which he dropped his bombs with devastating effect. Only then did he leave formation, but his valiant attempts to gain sufficient altitude for the crew to escape by parachute were unavailing and his aircraft crashed in flames after his successful efforts to avoid other planes in formation. By extraordinary flying skill, gallant leadership and intrepidity, Lt. Col. Baker rendered outstanding, distinguished, and valorous service to our Nation.