John Baca appreciates the simple things in life. So it makes sense you’ll find him living in Julian, where a slice of country living is best served warm with ice cream.
The 65-year-old Vietnam veteran moved to the small town east of San Diego, Calif. for a slower pace and quickly became friends with Debbie Gaudette, owner of Apple Alley Bakery.
Gaudette’s pie shop is a local favorite, and Baca is her best customer, sometimes ordering 10 pies a week.
Baca says he doesn’t own a television anymore or a computer. Instead, he spends his days talking with people. He listens to their stories and occasionally he shares his.
John Baca is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, one of only 77 still alive.
He says he should have died in Vietnam on Feb. 10, 1970. Baca, a 21-year-old soldier, found himself in the middle of a gunfight and watched a grenade land in the middle of his patrol.
“I saw my whole life flash through me. What do I do? Do I pick it up? Do I throw it? Where did it come from? It’s not supposed to be here, and do I run from it? Somebody is going to get wounded,” Baca said. “All these thoughts went through my mind.”
He covered the grenade with his helmet and then covered his helmet with his body, saving the lives of the men around him. He remembers praying to Jesus and feeling as if an angelic presence was holding him as he lay bleeding on the battlefield.
44 years later, Baca continues to be a giver.
The apple pies are proof. They aren’t for him, but for strangers all across the country: Wounded warriors who’ve lost limbs and families who’ve lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s just a delight doing this. Making some people happy, people we’ve forgotten about. But, pies…everybody likes pies,” Baca said.
“He is the most generous man I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t think he wants to own anything in this life. He wants to give it all away,” said Mike Murray, a friend and a veteran himself also living in Julian.
Thank you letters and pictures pour into Apple Alley Bakery every day from people around the country who have been touched by this unique gesture of kindness and comfort.
“It’s all just pretty amazing and overwhelming sometimes,” said Gaudette, who helps with the efforts.
So the next time you walk down Main Street in Julian, keep your eye out for a war hero on his way to the post office, a man more American than Apple Pie.