Local Vietnam veteran awarded medals

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

For Griffin resident and Vietnam War veteran David Baugh, what began as an effort to verify and correct his military service record became an experience that left him shocked…and overjoyed.

“I was not expecting anything like that. It was just beyond my wildest dreams,” Baugh said of learning he was to receive numerous medals from his Army service – nearly 50 years ago.

Baugh was scheduled to leave Vietnam and the Army on Dec. 5, 1968, but as fate would have it, those plans went quite awry.

“On Nov. 1, just a few days before I was supposed to leave, I got deathly sick – I had malaria,” Baugh recounted.

He was medically evacuated to a hospital in Japan, an experience he barely remembers.

“When they got ready to let me out, I was ready to go. I wanted to go home so bad. I kept after them and they finally let me go home, but they wouldn’t let me out of the military because they didn’t have my records,” he said. “On the ninth (of December), they finally let me out on temporary records. That’s all they had on me.”

Like other Vietnam War veterans, Baugh returned to a home that in large part did not support them.

“It was a rough time when I first came home. I put the war behind me because of the attitudes people had. I worked for a man for 20 years and he never knew I was a Vietnam veteran,” he said. “Finally, people became more patriotic and began shaking our hands and thanking us. The first time someone said that to me, it almost brought tears to my eyes. It was in 2005, and the lady in the office said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ No one had ever said that to me before then, and it really touched me. I don’t want people to feel obligated to say anything like that, though.”

With the changing sentiment, Baugh said he decided the time was right for him to review his military service records.

“I didn’t know about it for a long time, but one day I discovered you could have your badges replaced, so I decided I would look into my records and see about doing that,” he said.

Upon that review, Baugh noted his record reflected he earned a Bronze Star. Understandably skeptical as he had never been notified of this award, Baugh contacted the office of Congressman Lynn Westmoreland for assistance.

“They went through my records and sure enough, I was supposed to have the Bronze Star, and Congressman Westmoreland said they would come to Griffin where my family and friends are,” Baugh said. Altogether, Baugh received four awards – Bronze Star for Service, Army Good Conduct Medal, the Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross.

This experience is one he said he never anticipated.

“It really made me feel honored for them to do that. I was humbled by it, really. I guess it’s just a complicated thing. I know guys that I guess I just feel like they’re more deserving of recognition than I am. It’s kind of hard to put it into words. I knew guys that didn’t make it home. We lost guys over there. There were some rough times when I didn’t know if I was going to make it back home. There were times that would make you talk to Jesus,” Baugh said, adding that the response Vietnam veterans received upon returning home only served to deepen their pain. “When we came back home, it felt like this country had turned its back on me – on all of us Vietnam veterans. I didn’t turn my back on the country, but it felt like it did on me. It’s just a little bit more complicated than what people try to make it out to be sometimes. I didn’t do anything I’m ashamed of. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t nothing to be ashamed of. I did nothing to bring shame on myself or this country, and I don’t know anyone who did. We didn’t lose that war. We didn’t lose a single battle. The politicians lost that war. It was just a political thing. Whether we would have ever defeated them is another story. Whether we should have even been there or not is another story. I did what I was told to do. I didn’t go there voluntarily. I went where I was told to go and I did what I was told to do. I did my job with honor.”

Today, Baugh said he is at peace with his service in the Vietnam War.

“I don’t have any feelings towards anyone. I’m just happy and thankful that I’ve made it this far. There were 58,000 men who died over there. It was a real war. I’m thankful to be home and be alive,” he said.

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