The Day I Met Billy Waugh

By Jim Morris

I was XO at Buon Beng. We had trained two companies of Jarai Strike Force for Plei Do Lim, the first camp north, where Billy was Team Sergeant and Harlow Stevens was CO.

We had sent their dependents to Ankhe the day before. The convoy taking them to Plei Do Lim was ambushed on the way in. Thirty-four women and kids were killed, and also Wally, our montagnard sergeant major. I had had dinner with him and his family in their little bamboo home the week before they were all killed. It was not a good day.

William “Billy” Waugh December 1, 1929 – April 4, 2023

William “Billy” Waugh December 1, 1929 – April 4, 2023

The bodies came back sling loaded under a huey, trip after trip, and Jarai women walked the main street of the camp, wailing and tearing their hair. I hopped on the chopper for the last load, to see for myself what had happened. Here’s a description of that visit from my book War Story:

A three-quarter drove out from the main gate and came down to where we landed as the rotor slowly whined to a stop.

Behind that was a two and a half with the rest of the bodies. The three-quarter stopped on the green grass by the chopper and Harlow stepped out. Then the two and a half stopped and a detail got out to sling the last of the bodies.

“Hello, Harlow,” I said. “How’s it going?”

He gave me a sardonic grin. “It’s been better.”

Harlow is about my height, maybe six two, and weighs around two-twenty. He played college football somewhere on the west coast and the weight suits him. He’s got a wild comic sense that finds some fun in almost anything. He was on the solemn side today, though.

We stood in a little knot beside the aircraft, he and I and the pilot and co-pilot of the chopper. The crew chief and door gunner looked into little holes on the other side of the aircraft.

Harlow’s team sergeant, Billy Waugh, came over, smiling a happy smile. It always materialized during disaster. He seemed always to lean forward like a starter on the block. “Sir,” he said to Harlow, “the second company’s going out tomorrow, with or with­out orders. Their objective is to bring back thirty-four heads.”

Harlow nodded. “That’s inhuman and barbaric and brutal,” he said. “But I can’t do anything about it. I’m only an advisor. You did advise them not to do it, didn’t you?”

Waugh smiled some more and said, “Oh, yes, sir. I advised them most strongly against it. You mind if I go along?”

“Better not,” Harlow said. “You guys want to come with me? I’ll show you the trucks we got off the ambush.”

We got in the three-quarter. Harlow drove through the main gate. The pilot and I squeezed in the front seat beside him. Sergeant Waugh and the co-pilot were in the back. “You knew Wally got it on this ambush, didn’t you Jim?”

“No!” I said. “I figured about his kids, but I didn’t know about Wally.”

“Yeah,” he said, “he was wounded in four places from grenade fragments, and he was down but still firing. The Cong swarmed the truck and shot him to death with his own forty-five. His wife had her head blown off by a grenade and the two were killed by small arms fire.”

“I don’t get it,” I said, shaking my head. “The Cong use terror, sure. But usually they have sense to use it selectively. They haven’t accomplished anything with this but to get the Strike Force mad at them. Like that thirty-four heads deal Sergeant Waugh was talking about.”

I only met with him a couple of times after that, at SFA or SOAR. But I kept track of him through the stories that circulated. I heard that he had convinced Mrs. Alexander to send him back to Vietnam with a bleeding duodenal ulcer. I heard that he had Bin Laden in his sights but couldn’t get clearance to fire. I heard that he was on the ground in Afghanistan in his 70s, that he was still skydiving in his 70s. The man was a piece of work.

The last time I saw him was at SFA in the ‘80s. We talked about that ambush and Harlow Stevens. “God, I loved that man,” he said. He and Harlow were cut from the same cloth. Billy died three days ago, and Harlow died last week. De Oppresso Liber.

About the Author:

Jim Morris joined 1st SFGA in 1962 for a 30-month tour, which included two TDY trips to Vietnam. After a two year break, he went back on active duty for a PCS tour with 5th SFG (A), six months as the B Co S-5, and then was conscripted to serve as the Group’s Public Information Officer (PIO). While with B-52 Project Delta on an operation in the Ashau Valley, he suffered a serious wound while trying to pull a Delta trooper to safety, which resulted in being medically retired.

As a civilian war correspondent he covered various wars in Latin America, the Mideast, and again in Southeast Asia, eventually settling down to writing and editing, primarily but not exclusively about military affairs.

He is the author of many books, including the classic memoir War Story. HIs new book, The Dreaming Circus was released in the summer of 2022 — information available at