CLIFTON PARK — A 70-year-old townsman recalled being spit on, and rocks thrown at him, while stationed in the Sixth U.S. Army headquarters at the Presidio in San Francisco after serving in the Vietnam War.
In stark contrast to that stateside feeling of ridicule, Emil Baker was selected to the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame Thursday.
Baker — who became disabled after learning decades after the war that he was exposed to Agent Orange while in the Army — went on to provide hundreds of jobs to fellow veterans as an executive for a phone company, and as an owner of a deli.
Baker was inducted to the Hall of Fame by State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, who feted him during a quaint ceremony in the lawmaker’s office on Plank Road Thursday, on Veterans Day.
Tedisco, who selected him, noted the unwelcoming environmental Baker and others faced following their service to the country while in Vietnam.
Now, Tedisco said, “you’re going to be chronicled in the documents of the New York State Senate for eons to come.”
Baker is a former specialist E-4 in the U.S. Army who served in combat during the war.
During the war, Baker was given a promotion to the rank of sergeant and become head of his unit, a rank he held for the remainder of his time in Vietnam.
At the end of his tour in Vietnam, Baker was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service and the state Conspicuous Service Cross.
Following his active duty military service, Baker worked 20 years for New York Telephone/Bell Atlantic, where he provided jobs to veterans before retiring as vice president.
Baker also provided jobs to fellow veterans at the helm of his private business, Big Moose Deli & Country Store in Hoosick Falls.
Tedisco said state senators get to pick a veteran from their districts to the Hall of Fame in the New York Senate. That means Baker was one of only 63 veterans to receive the honor.
As Tedisco handed him the plaque, Baker said he had goosebumps when he learned of his induction. He said he was astounded.
Baker said Americans were so unwelcoming to Vietnam veterans at the time, he had to quit college after just a few days.
“I had to hide my military service for 10 years,” he said, admitting he lied on his job application to get in the phone company.
Baker said the country made him feel as if he did something wrong in serving in the Vietnam War.
The induction, Baker told Tedisco, was validation he did something good for his country, “and I thank you.”
“You didn’t do something good,” Tedisco said. “You did something great. You’re a great American.”
Baker is considered a dedicated volunteer and outspoken advocate for veterans causes and issues.
He’s served as a U.S. Small Business Administration counselor for five years helping veterans pursue their dreams of opening small businesses.
He was also a mentor for the Saratoga County Peer Connection Program and Saratoga County Incarcerated Veterans Program.
During the past five years, Baker has served as area chairman and state director of employer outreach with the U.S. Department of Defense employer support of the Guard and Reserve program, which helps veterans find jobs with employers who hire members of the National Guard and Reserve.
Baker testified before the state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in 2018 in support of legislation that was passed into law to ensure more veterans services information is accessible and available online. He explained that he learned that he was eligible for college programs long after he felt compelled to take advantage of those services.
Baker said his motivation for serving was his parents who had served in the Second World War. His mother, Jennie Baker, was an Army nurse, and his father, also Emil Baker, served in the Army despite a metal plate in his leg.
“He had to apply three times,” Baker said.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.
More from The Daily Gazette: