William “Billy” Waugh, a famed Army Special Forces soldier and later CIA operative, passed away today, at the age of 93.
Born on December 1, 1929, in Bastrop, Texas, Waugh was drawn to the military at an early age. When he was just 15, he came across two Marines and was inspired to enlist immediately. Deciding to travel to California, where he believed the minimum enlistment age was 16, he was stopped by a police officer in New Mexico and returned to Texas. That abortive attempt would only delay an impressive career by a few years, though.
Joining the Army in 1948, Waugh attended Airborne School and in 1951 was sent to Korea with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Waugh wrote in his 2004 autobiography “Hunting the Jackal” that he “learned what made men tick, and what combat was all about.”
After being deployed to Germany, Waugh transferred to Special Forces.
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“Once I learned what these fine men – the fittest and most committed group I had ever seen – were to become, I knew it was the only place for me,” Waugh wrote.
He first deployed to Vietnam in 1961, and then again in 1965. In June of that year, helping lead a Special Forces team alongside South Vietnamese volunteer forces in a raid, Waugh was shot three times, in an engagement for which team leader then-Capt. Paris Davis was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
After recovering from his injuries, Waugh served several more years in Vietnam with Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group, an elite formation of special operations forces tasked with conducting some of the most dangerous and secretive missions in the country. Waugh himself participated in the first freefall High Altitude, Low Opening (HALO) combat jump in history, in 1971. Retiring in 1972 as a Sgt. Maj., Waugh earned the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, eight Purple Hearts, four Army Commendation Ribbons, 14 Army Air Medals, and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Following a brief detour as a U.S. Postal Service employee, Waugh began working for the CIA in 1977, although it happened in an unusual way. Waugh was first recruited by a former CIA employee named Edwin Wilson to train special operations troops in Libya. Once in that country, though, Waugh was recruited by the actual CIA for intelligence work.
“I had a method — I would take photos for about three weeks of areas we’d never been into before, of all the countries around Sudan, Egypt, and all of the countries of Africa. I became very good with small cameras … I learned how to brief well, and I was excellent with maps. It became a pleasure to do the work. If you get killed, that’s just tough sh*t,” Waugh told Recoil Magazine about his intelligence work in 2022.
In this capacity, Waugh spent the 1980s and 1990s tracking down both Usama bin Laden and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as “Carlos the Jackal.”
In 2001, Waugh was just a couple of months shy of 72 when he became one of the first CIA members to enter Afghanistan, working alongside special operations personnel hunting for bin Laden, who Waugh said he had been close enough “to have killed him with a rock,” a decade earlier.
Waugh spent his later years as a speaker and, generally, as a legend in the special operations community.
“Once you get used to that (a life of adventure), you’re not about to quit,” Waugh said in 2011. “How could you want to do anything else?”
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