Vincent Baker’s life is easily defined in terms of campaigns than titles. Baker has been a candidate for attorney general, state senator, judge, and congress. Baker also fought in five of the largest European campaigns during World War II.
As war intensified in Europe, Baker felt a patriotic duty to join the military, but his parents would not sign the papers for him to join early. In 1939, he enlisted in the Kansas National Guard as soon as he turned 18. Two years later, while Baker was at officer training school in Fort Still, Oklahoma, Pearl Harbor was attacked and his recent commission of second lieutenant was put to use during his first campaign in Normandy, France.
Like many of the amphibious watercraft used on Omaha Beach, Baker’s did not gracefully land on shore. The boat opened early due to a German mine. When Baker came to, he was greeted by a sailor who threw down a rope and offered him some bourbon. “It was the best drink I ever had,” Baker said. He only learned the name of the man who offered him that drink in 2011 – 67 years after D-Day.
He was promoted to first lieutenant in the field with the 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Baker earned numerous medals from his participation in five European campaigns, including the Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster signifying further battlefield injuries, five Bronze Campaign Stars, a European Theatre Ribbon, and 1106th Combat Engineers Commendation. He recently received the French Legion of Honor for his assistance liberating France – a commendation originally created by Napoleon. Rep. Mike Cierpiot, Baker’s friend and neighbor, joined Baker at the ceremony for the Legion of Honor.
After returning home, Baker used G.I. Bill benefits to get his law degree – starting his studies at the University of Kansas and completing them at the University of Kansas City (now University of Missouri – Kansas City). During the summers, he drilled for oil at wells in Oklahoma. In 1953, he started practicing law with the firm of Baker & Carroll in Kansas City and began his first political campaign for Missouri Attorney General. He lost by 10% to John Dalton, who went on to become Missouri’s 45th governor.
This campaign encouraged him to run for state senate when Sen. Charles Madison resigned. At this point, Baker’s political resume included investigator for the Kansas City Board of Elections Commissioners, president of the Jackson County Young Republicans, and candidate for attorney general. He decided to run for the open senate seat and was elected on October 4, 1955 at the age of 34.
As state senator, Vince Baker attempted to tackle an issue that is still a hot topic: transportation. In 1957, a bill was filed to establish a turnpike between Kansas City and Chicago. The bill was cosponsored by the majority floor leader at the time, Sen. Floyd Gibson. The Federal-Aid Highway Act was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower the year before, which created I-70 and several of the major highways that exist in Missouri today.
Baker ran for re-election in 1958, but was unsuccessful. Like his campaign for attorney general, his second-term campaign was lost within a margin of less than 15%. However, the political heartbreak did not discourage him from running again.
Baker’s impact as a legislator and lawyer resonated throughout Missouri and he later became an associate judge for Missouri’s 16th Judicial Circuit.
In 1980, Baker ran for office for the again – this time, for U.S. House of Representatives against Congressman Richard W. Bolling. Though Baker won the Republican primary, Baker lost the in the general election. The seat has been held by Democrats for 65 years – since Bolling was first elected in 1949. The campaign for congress was his last campaign.
In 1981, Baker retired from the Army Reserve in the rank of captain.
Though Baker has no plans to run for public office, he keeps up with politics through his relationship with Cierpiot.
Perhaps most importantly, Baker’s titles without campaigns are the most valuable. He is a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Baker’s kin chimed in throughout his interview which took place in his home, surrounded by family pictures and Americana.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.