In Memory of
Private First Class
Chamberlain, South Dakota
November 25, 1903—May 24, 1944
Died of Illness in India
Wendell J. Baker was born on the
November 24, 1903, in Chamberlain, South Dakota. Wendell’s parents are Joseph L.
Baker and Mamie J. Baker. Wendell had a brother Robert and two sisters named
Jean and Dorothea, Wendell lived most of his life in Brule County wile living on
his uncle, Robert Newell’s farm northeast of Chamberlain. He attended grade
school near Pukwana, South Dakota. Wendell attended high school in Presho,
Private Baker enlisted in the
Army at Chamberlain, May 4, 1942, and was sent to Camp Crook Nebraska. After
leaving Camp Crook, Private Baker was stationed for one and one-half months at
Comp Walters, Texas, and from there he went to New Orleans. Having completed
his training, he was sent to Trinidad as a member of the Infantry. He stayed in
Trinidad for over one year.
Early in the spring of 1944,
Private Baker volunteered for a special composite unit of approximately three
thousand soldiers labeled the Composite Unit 5,307th Provisional.
Their mission was known only to be “a dangerous and hazardous secret jungle
warfare mission”. The soldiers were told, “. . .not to bet on surviving”.
Despite this, Private Baker volunteered and became a part of the E Company, 2nd
Battalion, Blue Combat Team of what would later become known as Merrill’s
Marauders, named after their leader, General Frank D. Merrill. Private Baker
was engaged in this secret mission, which operated behind the Japanese lines in
the jungle region of Burma, which is now part of India. He went through all of
the suffering that comes with being consistently in jungle combat for more than
110 days. In addition, he was one of less than 700 men of the 2nd
Battalion that were trapped on Nhpum Ga Hill (known as Maggot Hill to the
Marauders). They were surrounded by thousands of Japanese that attacked again
and again. They successfully fought off the Japanese for an unimaginable
Private Baker fought recurrent
malaria, deadly mite typhus, dysentery, malnutrition, and exhaustion in addition
to the Japanese. He earned among other possible medals, The Combat Infantryman
Badge, The Bronze Star Medal, and The Presidential Unit Citation. No other
group ever consistently fought behind enemy lines under such difficult
conditions for so long and so hard. He endured what was believed to be humanly
unendurable and still performed beyond expected. Having been a Marauder made
Private Baker a forefather of the present day 75th Rangers. He was
and always will be an American Hero among Heroes.
Private Baker perished in the 14th
Evacuation Hospital in India on May 24, 1944, after suffering from brown mite
typhus as a result of extended jungle warfare. This statement was written to the
Baker family from The Adjutant General on August 21, 1944:
It is with deep regret that I confirm the telegram of recent
date informing you of the
death of your son, Private First Class Wendell J. Baker, 37,123,924, infantry.
I realize that there is little which may be said or done at this time to
sorrow but it is my hope that in time you may find sustaining comfort in the
knowledge that he died while in the service of
Please accept my deepest sympathy.
It is believed that the true nature of Private Baker’s
heroic service to his country may never have been communicated to his family,
since it remained a top secret mission for years after its completion. No
members of his family are surviving at this time. Private Baker was given full
military honors and buried at the Riverview Cemetery in Chamberlain, South
This entry was
respectfully submitted by Derek Kutil and Andrew Taecker, 8th grade
language arts, Chamberlain Middle School, Chamberlain, South Dakota.
Information for this entry was attained through the veteran’s service record,
newspaper clippings, and information provided from Mr. Robert Passanisi,
Historian for the National Merrill’s Marauders Association.