BERRIEN COUNTY (WNDU) -- An American war hero shot over a dozen times in Vietnam is the first person to die from coronavirus in Berrien County. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) confirmed Walter "Bud" Baker passed away Monday.
County health officials said the person who died was a man over the age of 70 who was hospitalized at Lakeland Medical Center. He did have serious underlying health conditions.
Upton tells16 News Now he learned Baker was diagnosed with coronavirus just 2-3 days before his death. Last week, he said Baker was in touch with one of his staff members, who was in Florida at the time.
"Bud was texting her in perfect health, [saying], 'Be careful...stay down there. It's hitting closer to home,'" recalled Upton.
Upton says the Army veteran was shot 13 times in Vietnam and fought to save the lives of fellow soldiers, garnering him the Distinguished Service Cross. Following military service, Baker became involved In the Lest We Forget organization in Berrien County, fighting to ensure all veterans received better treatment than he did after his deployment to Vietnam.
"I think his selflessness is really what was his hallmark," explained John Proos, the former Michigan state lawmaker. "He and his wife both were always more interested in me, more interested in what was happening with my family, hoping that my kids were doing well, hoping that I was being safe back on the road, back and forth to the capital, three or four times a week. It was always a question of how I was doing."
As Upton reflected on the strength of his longtime friend, he emphasizes the fragility of life: "[Baker] put his life on the line - more than once - and he just kept bouncing back 'til yesterday."
Proos said that while the coronavirus has cut short senior years for high school and college students, the virus is doing the same to people's lives - and that social distancing should be taken seriously.
"If that saves [people like] Bud's life, because we're not out and about, because my daughter and all those seniors in college and high school across the nation and across our state, in particular, are stuck wondering what it would be like, I'd hate to have to think about what it could be like if we don't take advantage of this time to reconnect with family, to reconnect with the Bud Bakers in our lives," Proos said.
Upton said it's unclear right now how Baker contracted the virus.