DENNIS — More than a hundred years after he served in a critical battle of the Spanish-American War and earned the nation’s highest military honor, Dennis native Benjamin Franklin Baker was recognized with the dedication of a memorial Saturday morning.
Baker is the only Cape Cod resident to receive the Medal of Honor, but until Saturday, the only monument that acknowledged the distinction was his gravestone.
Bill Baker, a retired Navy lieutenant commander from Atlanta, placed a wreath at the foot of the monument where his ancestor’s name is engraved.
“My father knew about him, and it got me really interested in tracing his history. I was really glad when the historical commission contacted me about doing this,” Baker said.
Standing by his side during the dedication was Sean Mahoney, a 19-year-old midshipman at Massachusetts Maritime Academy and a Dennis resident.
“For me, to live my whole life in Dennis, and as a future member of the Navy, it was a true honor to help recognize a veteran like Baker,” Mahoney said.
In 1898, Benjamin Baker was part of the crew of the USS Nashville, which fired the first shots of the Spanish-American War and captured a fleet of Spanish ships. Baker was given the honor of hoisting the American flag on the first captured Spanish ship.
The Nashville came under heavy enemy fire in the Battle of Cienfuegos, as its crew severed key undersea communication cables used by the Spanish fleet. Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in this battle.
Baker was described during the ceremony as a selfless sailor, working for a wage that could barely sustain his family while he was at war. Diane Rochelle, chairwoman of the Dennis Historical Commission, said he would often skip his rations and instead have the money sent home, at a rate of 50 cents per meal, to feed his wife and young daughter.
Benjamin Baker was not named on the town’s original Spanish-American War monument because it was erected in 1920, seven years before Baker died of complications from liver surgery at a hospital in Brockton, according to Rochelle.
Michael J. Mahoney, commander of the Baker Xiarhos AMVETS Post 333, said he learned of Baker’s grave about a decade ago and has since cut the grass and kept it clean, with help from local Cub Scouts.
“The grave isn’t the most glamorous site, so now that he’s honored here, I think it’s just great,” Mahoney said. “It’s an honor to recognize his service so late after his death. Any time we get the chance to honor one of our veterans, we do it.”
Rochelle said the Dennis Historical Commission learned earlier this year that the town had yet to commemorate Baker, and she put together Saturday’s ceremony.
“It seemed that every other deceased veteran from Dennis had been recognized on a monument, and hopefully now we have remembered every lost soldier,” said Rochelle. “I’m sure he would be very honored that he hasn’t been forgotten. Long dead, never forgotten.”Eric Bosco can be reached at email@example.com.