White House apologizes for turning away war hero’s family over dress code

Holly Bailey

The White House apologized Thursday to the family of a Medal of Honor recipient who was turned away from a tour of the West Wing last weekend because the late veteran's 10-year-old grandson was wearing shorts.

Vernon K. Baker was the last surviving black Medal of Honor winner from World War II. He was belatedly awarded the honor in 1997 by President Clinton, after historians concluded Baker had been snubbed from receiving the military's top award because of race. Baker, who died in July after complications from brain cancer, was buried last Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

On Saturday, his widow, Heidy Baker, and grandson, Vernon, along with another Medal of Honor winner, Thomas Norris, arrived at the White House for an exclusive tour of the West Wing. But as the Associated Press's Nicholas K. Geranios reported, the three were turned away after a White House staffer who was to lead the tour wasn't sure the grandson's attire was appropriate. Vernon was wearing shorts and a T-shirt with a photo of his late grandfather on the front.

[Related: Woman secretly a World War II hero]

"This is an unfortunate misunderstanding," White House spokesman Adam Abrams told AP. He said the White House had reached out to the Baker family and Norris to express their "deep regret" and invite them for another tour.

This is hardly the first time the issue of wardrobe at the White House has come up. In 2005, the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team came under fire after several women wore flip-flops when President Bush hosted them at the White House after a championship season. The team still got their photo, but Bush administration officials issued a reminder to future visitors that formal attire was required at the White House.

Bush, in particular, was a stickler for proper attire, banning jeans in the Oval Office and most parts of the West Wing, even on the weekends. But Obama hasn't been as hardcore about the dress code, as he and staffers have been photographed in more casual attire during off hours.

(Photo of Vernon Baker in 2005 by Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman Review/AP)

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