William J. Baugh

17 July 1934 – 19 February 2010

Rank/Branch: O3/United States Air Force
Unit: 480th TFS
Date of Birth: 17 July 1934
Home City of Record: Piqua OH
Date of Loss: 21 January 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam

Loss Coordinates: 213600N 1062800E
Status (in 1973): Returnee
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4C, #0810
Incident No: 0580
Missions: 50 Vietnam
Other Personnel in Incident: Donald “Ray” Spoon, returnee

On November 17, 1996, Col (RET) William Baugh provided the P.O.W. NETWORK with this biography:

I was born on 17 July 1934 in Piqua, Ohio. I graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 1956, with an Air Force ROTC Commission as a Second Lieutenant. After completing Pilot Training in 1958, I was assigned to the 465th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Griffiss AFB Rome NY, where Iflew the F-89 and F-101 B, then off to the 92nd TFS, RAF Bentwaters England in 1963, where he flew F-101A & C, and then the F-4C. Sept 1966 I was assigned to the 480th TFS, Danang AFB South VietNam.

On the 21st of Jan 1967, while flying my 25th combat mission over North VietNam (I also flew 25 missions over South VietNam), I was shot down and captured. During ejection I suffered a compressed vertebrae, broken jaw and cheek bone, and was blinded in the right eye. After six years & six weeks of surviving the POW camps in North VietNam, I was repatriated on March the 4th 1973. It was a great and wonderful dream come true – a feeling of total joy.

Upon my return I remained in the Air Force and attended Air War College at Maxwell AFB, then was assigned to Headquarters NORAD as a Personnel Officer, then as Director of Protocol for CINC NORAD, and finally as Director of Personnel at the Wing at Peterson AFB. I retired from active duty in May 1981 with the rank of Colonel.

In 1983 I resumed to work for the Government in the Civil Service ranks as the Chief of Public Affairs for the 2nd Space Wing at Falcon AFB, CO. Iin the fall off 1991 I finally hung up my spurs and really retired.

I now keep busy as the Editor of a quarterly news letter for the VietNam POW organization called “NAM-POW’s.” I am also a guest lecturer at the AF Space Command NCO Academy and Airman Leadership Schools.

I was a Command Pilot, with over 2500 hours of “fighter pilot” time. My military decorations include the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, POW Medal, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with Cluster.

I reside in Colorado Springs, with my wife Mary, a Great Danes, an English Mastiff and two Cats. We have 4 children and 5 grandchildren.

Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw
data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA
families, published sources, interviews.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette, 2 February 2010:

Former POW Who Shared Story With Community Has Died
By Lance Benzel

A retired Air Force fighter pilot who endured six years and six weeks as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and came home a stronger, smarter man died recently in Colorado Springs.

Retired Col. William “Bill” Joseph Baugh died early Feb. 19 of complications from cancer, family members said. He was 75.

“He was a giant of a man,” said Mike McGrath of Monument, a former Navy pilot and fellow POW who once shared a cell with Baugh. “He was a giant in his heart and well loved by all the POWs and all who came to know him.”

A private memorial will be held March 6 at the Air Force Academy. His burial will in his hometown of Piqua, Ohio, also a private ceremony.

Baugh was known throughout the Colorado Springs community for his presentations on life as a POW and for his activism on POW/MIA issues.

He was a 9-year veteran fighter pilot by the time his F4 Phantom was shot down Jan. 21, 1967, on his 25th combat mission over North Vietnam.

Blinded in one eye and badly injured while parachuting into the trees, Baugh was captured by villagers and turned over to the North Vietnamese Army. He was moved through a series of prison camps, including several stints in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Two-and-half years into captivity, Baugh’s captors allowed him to send home a six-line note to tell his wife and four children he was alive.

“It said, ‘I’m OK.’ That he loved me. That he hoped to come home soon,” said his widow, Mary DuBois Baugh of Colorado Springs. “Knowing about the torture over there, I thought: Now I know he’s alive, but can he survive?”

Baugh, who suffered a back injury and broken jaw while bailing out of his crippled jet, received little mercy, he later recalled in talks to audiences in Colorado Springs.

Jailers twisted his lanky, 6-foot, 4-inch frame until his bones popped out of their sockets. He was kept in tight shackles and in solitary confinement. He was beaten and left in cold dark rooms.

Baugh and other American prisoners — many of them captured pilots — were released on March 4, 1973. Family members were warned that their loved ones would likely return home changed men, their personalities warped by deprivation and physical abuse.

“He was gone six years and six-and-a-half weeks,” Mary Baugh said. “Here I was raising the kids. I thought, Is he going to be OK with the job I did? What’s it going to be like? What’s he going to be like?

“He wasn’t even home the first day when I knew that everything was going to be OK. He was just that solid.”

Baugh recalled that in his darkest hours, he steeled himself with the thought that he would be rescued, and that he must survive to see his family again. He and fellow POWs constantly plotted escapes. They shared knowledge in each other’s areas of expertise, holding classes in foreign languages, math and other subjects. Officers with a gift for storytelling recounted the plots of movies they had seen.

McGrath, who also was shot down in 1967, said Baugh never cared about the consequences for communicating with fellow POWs. Those caught talking were beaten.

“We shared, and supported each other and learned a lot,” McGrath said.

“He came home a smarter man,” Mary Baugh said. “You could ask him about anything and he’d know something about it.”

Three of Baugh’s children were teenagers when he returned. His fourth, Liz, hadn’t even been born when he was taken prisoner.

He also is survived by five grand children.

Baugh remained in the Air Force after his return, though blindness in his right eye disqualified him from flying. He attended Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base and was assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Cheyenne Mountain as a personnel officer. He retired from active duty in 1981 as the colonel in charge of personnel at Peterson Air Force Base.

In 1983, he became the civilian chief of public affairs for the 2nd Space Wing at then-Falcon Air Force Base before retiring in 1991.

Baugh remained active with a prisoner of war group, NAM-POWs, serving as the editor of its quarterly publication.

He often spoke about his experiences as a guest lecturer at the Air Force Academy and Peterson AFB.

After years of declining health, Baugh learned recently he had developed cancer in his kidney, family members said.

The disease spread quickly.

Mary Baugh said her grief over the loss of her husband has been blunted by a sense of gratitude for the time they had together.

“That’s what has sustained me through all this,” she said. “There are so many people … that didn’t make it home, that didn’t see their children and live to watch them grow.

“We were lucky. We got so much time with him.”