Billy Waugh fought in Korea and Vietnam, was a CIA operative, hunted Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and much more during a Truly Remarkable Career Spanning Decades.
Story by Paul Pawela
I was recently attending Sean Kelley’s kenpo camp – Kelly is one of the greatest kenpo karate instructors in the world and his seminars bring in the very best – and in the back of my mind was my father’s wisdom: “Always train with the best and keep your pie hole shut.” Airborne, Pops! And check! However, this camp was even more special than the previous ones, as there were many mentors in attendance. One such mentor was Special Forces/Ranger legend and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick Kelly, a man who deserves an article written about him. With a calm but thunderous voice from the mountain of a man that he is, Kelly braced me for some bad news: “Paul, on my way down from Bragg, I stopped by Tampa to visit Billy. He is not going to be with us much longer.”
I was subsequently informed through the grapevine that Billy Waugh, the Special Forces/CIA luminary, a man whose entire life could fill volumes and whose story is worthy of a major motion picture, was felled by two major strokes. As sure as he was a Christian of faith, Waugh was given his orders to report to the Lord on April 4 of this year. Born William Dawson Waugh, he was 93.
THIS IS MY requiem to the immortal superhero Billy Waugh. I debated whether to compare him to Odysseus/Ulysses, the hero of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, but the more I thought about it, I realized that the character Batman was more fitting. Not only could Batman have been certainly modeled after Waugh, but they have more in common than one would think. If you think it is a bit childish, then tell that to the CIA, who gave him the code name Batman!
Let’s start the comparison. Batman has genius-level intelligence, masterful detective and escapology skills, peak human physical condition, martial arts expertise, access to high tech equipment, and he is a superhero who fights evil and strikes terror in the hearts of criminals. Having no superhuman abilities, he is considered one of the world’s most intelligent men and greatest fighters using his physical prowess, technical ingenuity and tactical thinking. Part of his crime-fighting gear is his utility belt in which he carries an assortment of weapons and investigative and technological tools. Despite having the potential to harm his enemies, he has a strong commitment to justice and a reluctance to take a life. Batman deliberately cultivates a frightening persona to put fear into his enemies. He would best be described as a polymath.
In an eerily similar comparison, Waugh lived every word as described above, except with one incredibly huge difference: he had no such reluctance to take lives. In 50 years of combat experience, both with elite Special Forces units and the CIA, as he saw it, “My craving is, and always has been, to be involved in actions conducted to ensure America remains strong, safe, and free of those who have its destruction as their goal.” After the events of September 11, 2001, his thoughts on Osama bin Laden were these: “By God, this man and his Al-Qaeda punks needed to be killed and tossed into the garbage dumps of wherever they may be found.”
At the age of 71, Waugh set out with a few CIA, Delta Force and Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 594 members to capture or kill bin Laden. Each operator carried 110 pounds of equipment, complete with a filled rucksack, communications equipment, weapons and grenades, and they embarked on the roughest mountain terrain Afghanistan had to offer, often in miserably cold weather with temperatures plummeting to -5 degrees. Using advanced technology, those heroic men brought in enough laser-guided bombs from the US Air Force to exterminate a large population of terrorists.
THROUGHOUT HIS INCREDIBLE career, Waugh lived with pain and suffering. He was awarded eight Purple Hearts, which meant he was wounded by either bullets or bomb shrapnel multiple times. During one secret mission, Waugh was shot in the foot, ankle, knee, wrist and head. The North Vietnamese Army enemy thought he was dead – big mistake – but he literally willed himself back to health after extensive reconstruction on his injured leg that doctors thought might have to be amputated. Be it willpower, divine intervention, or both, in a relatively short time, Waugh was back in the fight. By the way, on that mission, deep behind enemy lines, Waugh and his team killed more than 160 enemies. That attack alerted over 4,000 NVA troops to hunt down Waugh and his team of 90 men. Only 18 of his men made it out; however, when the survivors called in for air support, over 600 NVA had been killed.
In the secret unit called SOG (Special Operations Group), Waugh was not only known for taking lives, but part of his mission was to save lives and recover bodies of men killed deep behind enemy lines. He led many successful missions, which are talked about in-depth in his book Hunting the Jackal, as well as in SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam by John Plaster.
In addition to his eight Purple Hearts, Waugh received the Silver Star (the third-highest medal in the military), four Commendation Ribbons for Valor, four Bronze Stars for Valor, 14 Air Medals for Valor, and two Combat Infantry badges. Speaking of valor, Waugh and a team of two other men that he picked were the first to do a high-altitude low opening, or HALO, parachute combat jump. Think about the incredible courage it takes to step out in the darkness of night, 2 miles above Earth and 2 miles above the most uncharted, vicious jungle man had ever seen, and Waugh and his team were jumping right into the middle of it! Waugh would be cemented as a pioneer in the HALO field, serving all future special operations HALO teams fighting in the Global War on Terror. While most of his jumps were successful, Waugh did survive crashing in three helicopters and two planes.
IT IS HARD to believe that Waugh’s first combat experience was in 1951 in Korea, and that just two years later in 1953, he would become a pioneer in the Special Forces. Waugh’s last mission was in Afghanistan in 2002. In all, he served the US in 64 different countries. Many of his CIA missions are classified to this day. During the Vietnam War, Waugh’s SOG unit, which he was in for over seven years, captured thousands of tons of munitions and supplies and killed thousands of enemy soldiers.
SOG recon men consistently killed more than 100 NVA for each one lost, a ratio that climbed as high as 150 to 1. This was the highest documented kill ratio of any American unit in the war and probably the highest such ratio in US history. A short time later, Waugh was part of the undercover CIA team that was responsible for capturing the number one terrorist at that time, Carlos the Jackal, also known as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez. It was Waugh’s great detective prowess that allowed him to be the first person in the world to get updated pictures of the Jackal that were used in capturing him.
Another target that Waugh had his eye on was bin Laden. Waugh had done secret surveillance on the terrorist, and had asked permission several times to kill him. Waugh told me personally that he had gun sights on bin Laden many times and could have killed him relatively easily. The plan I liked the most was the one he wrote about in Hunting the Jackal. When bin Laden was being driven out of town, a two-car team would be used; the first car would smash into bin Laden’s vehicle and the CIA operators in the other car would shoot bin Laden’s driver and bin Laden with suppressed MP-5s. But like many politicians who are squeamish about eliminating threats to Americans, the administration at the time would not authorize kill missions until many Americans died – and die they would by the thousands at the hands of bin Laden. That included the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa, a bombing at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the Battle of Mogadishu (also known as the Black Hawk Down incident) and the September 11 attacks. Those buildings would all still be standing and many thousands of lives would have been saved had Waugh been authorized to shoot that SOB.
Waugh lived by the mantra: “If a man prepares for battle, trains for battle, studies the enemy, and practices for every possibility, the outcome of the battle will take care of itself.” How good was Waugh? Hanging in his house are many plaques that are definitely museum-worthy. However, the one that stands out the most is the one the CIA presented to him that reads: “To Billy Waugh from the CIA, ‘The Greatest Assassin Ever!’” I think that sums it up best. Thank you always, Billy, for being a true leader and mentor to us all. Billy Waugh is the greatest man ever to be known as Batman – God bless and goodbye. ★ Editor’s note: Author Paul Pawela is a nationally recognized firearms and self-defense expert. For his realistic self-defense training, see assaultcountertactics.com.