LUCASVILLE—Over a century after he was killed in action in World War I, Private William Baker’s Purple Heart decoration now hangs at the Lucasville American Legion Post originally chartered in his name.
Marjorie Mains, a member of the Auxiliary at Lucasville’s William Baker American Legion Post 363, said that what started out as a puzzling question decades ago later snowballed into efforts to help Baker’s family apply for his Purple Heart.
“To me, it’s sort of like your roots,” Mains explained. “The post was named for him when it was chartered in 1920. What I did goes back to 1969 when we had our sesquicentennial celebration here for the founding of the village. I wasn’t involved at the time, but some of the older ones in the community who have since passed on searched and looked for who William Baker was,” she said.
The question occupied Mains’ mind for years. Around eight years ago, she relied on her experience with family research and the availability of online genealogical searches to finally find their answers.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to do my best to find out who this William Baker is,’” said Mains.
Mains, along with Adjutant John Ashworth, located relatives of Baker by following online leads, sending countless emails, and remaining determined. Since Baker’s military service, new generations of his family had spread across the country and were grateful that his legacy was being honored.
From there, the Baker family worked with a non-profit organization called Purple Hearts Reunited, which works diligently to verify military records and “return lost or stolen medals to veterans and military families at no cost,” according to the organization’s website. Purple Hearts Reunited is staffed largely of dedicated volunteers who are themselves veterans, wounded veterans, or their families.
The non-profit was founded in 2012 and to date has returned more than 1,000 service medals to veterans and their families, including Baker’s Purple Heart.
Created by General George Washington in 1782 to commemorate bravery in military service, the Purple Heart decoration eventually fell into disuse. General Douglas MacArthur then revived the practice of awarding the medal in 1932, where qualifications later evolved to include soldiers who were wounded or killed in battle.
Therefore, many veterans like Baker who were killed or wounded in battle prior to the revival were unable to apply for the military decoration.
“Back in World War I, they didn’t have the Purple Heart,” Mains clarified.
Ashworth added, “The government supplies the Purple Heart. Any wounded veteran is supposed to get one, and [Baker] was killed in action. He was supposed to get one. But there are a lot of veterans [who met the qualifications] who did not get one.”
Once American Legion Post 636 and the Baker family began working with Purple Hearts Reunited in 2019, Mains said that the process to receive Baker’s Purple Heart took about a year. Baker’s family members in Florida—including his grand nephew, Robert Baker—were able to take part in a return ceremony hosted by Purple Hearts Reunited in Sarasota, where his great uncle was recognized posthumously for his service and sacrifice with the decoration.
Leading up to the return ceremony, Baker’s family visited the American Legion Post 363 and became very involved in supporting their mission. Ultimately, they knew where they wanted Baker’s medal to be displayed.
“[Baker’s family] decided that they wanted the Purple Heart to stay with us,” Mains explained. “From where the post is named after him, there was that connection.”
When asked what it means to the veterans and members of Post 363 to have such a commemoration of Baker’s service, Adjutant Ashworth beamed with pride.
“How can I say how much this means,” Ashworth said. “It means a lot because that gives us a connection back to veterans, and that’s why we are all here: to honor veterans.”
For Ashworth and Mains, they hope that their work at telling a chapter of Baker’s story will inspire others to do the same for the veterans in their family or community.
“After the Vietnam War, our veterans were sort of forgotten. People forgot what a veteran goes through,” said Ashworth. “They’re willing to give their lives for this country, and also our flag. That’s part of our goal: to promote not only the United States but to promote our flag as a symbol of the United States. And we do our best to do that, and that’s why we are here.”
Mains and Ashworth are grateful that Rush Township native Baker’s legacy can finally be known by his family and community.
“I’m amazed that it all came to this,” said Mains. “And I am so grateful for the [Baker] family. Robert got his whole family involved, and it’s just one of those things where along the way I thought, ‘we will never find out for sure.’ It’s such a gratification to me.”
Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or by email at [email protected]
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