Air Force Veteran Howard Lee Baugh was born in January 1920 in Petersburg, Virginia. He grew up dreaming of becoming a pilot, but as a Black man, understood that systemic racism was a barrier between him and his dreams. Baugh endured living under Jim Crow laws in Petersburg, where segregation was enforced and people of color had limited rights. He attended Virginia State College, now called Virginia State University, and graduated in 1941.
Soon after he graduated, the U.S. Army Air Corps began allowing Black men to enlist, albeit in completely segregated units. Baugh enlisted in March 1942. He completed pilot training in Tuskegee, Alabama, and was commissioned as an officer in November 1942. Despite never having been in an aircraft before training, he passed all of his courses and earned his wings. Baugh became one of only 355 Tuskegee Airmen deployed overseas during World War II, where as a group, they excelled.
In July 1943, Baugh was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group. He spent 16 months overseas, flying 135 combat missions in P-40 and P-51 fighter aircraft. He painted “Connie Jean” on the nose of his aircraft to honor his wife. On Jan. 27, 1944, the 99th was assigned to fly aerial cover for the Allies in the Battle of Anzio in Italy. During that day’s air-to-air combat, the 99th shot down 10 German FW-190 fighter aircraft. Baugh downed two enemy fighters that day and was credited with 1.5 aerial victories, sharing one with his wingman, Lt. Clarence Allen.
Upon returning from overseas combat in November 1944, Baugh was assigned to Tuskegee Army Airfield and served as a flight instructor. He was then promoted to director of Flying Training for all of Tuskegee. Following his tenure at Tuskegee, Baugh’s military career took him worldwide in flying and operational administration in both squadron and detachment positions.
Baugh retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1967 after 25 years of active-duty service. During his career, he logged 6,000 flight hours, 250 of which occurred in combat and 1,100 of which were spent flying jet aircraft, in 15 different military aircraft. Baugh received the Distinguished Flying Cross and was one of four Tuskegee Airmen awarded the French Legion of Honor in Paris by the French government. Additionally, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.
After he retired from the Air Force, Baugh worked for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York. He eventually moved back to his hometown of Petersburg. Baugh was known for his passion for helping others, advocating for education and always sharing stories about his time in the service. He had three sons: Howard, David and Richard.
In 2003, the Howard Baugh Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. was founded in Petersburg in Baugh’s honor. Additionally, there is a statue of Baugh at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond that honors him and commemorates all Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen played an important, yet often overlooked, role in World War II. Baugh’s statue is a testament to the accomplishments and legacy of these men and women, who fought both an enemy overseas and racism and bigotry at home.
Baugh entered the military while it was still segregated and faced not only the conflict of World War II, but also the challenges of racism in America. In a 2008 interview at Midlothian, a Virginian church, Baugh shared his belief that “if ordinary people are given proper training and opportunity, they can do extraordinary things, regardless of race, creed or color.”
Baugh died in August 2008. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery alongside Constance, his wife of 54 years.
We honor his service.
Writers: John Byrne and Kimberly Kassis
Editors: Elissa Tatum, Katherine Adams, and Kelly Dooley
Fact Checkers: Latesha Thornhill and Michael Macias
Graphics: Korak Sengupta