Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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As World War II veteran’s 100th birthday approaches, he opens up about his experience fighting in Europe

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    Richard “Harold” Baughman smiles while looking at a frame encasing his Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other military honors as he recounts being a World War II U.S. Army veteran recently at his residence in Chippewa Falls. Baughman will celebrate his 100th birthday Monday. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik
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    Photos of Richard “Harold” Baughman sit on the kitchen table as he recounts being a World War II U.S. Army veteran on Monday, October 30, 2017 at his residence in Chippewa Falls. Baughman will celebrate his 100th birthday, which is November 13, on Veterans Day. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik
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CHIPPEWA FALLS — Richard “Harold” Baughman doesn’t shy away from talking about his combat experience in World War II. He thinks it is important to share his memories.

“It’s a story that needs to be told, especially for those who didn’t come home,” Baughman said. “I think the history needs to be preserved.”

Baughman, who served in the U.S. Army and fought in Germany, will turn 100 on Monday. A birthday celebration will be from 1 to 4 p.m. today, Veterans Day, at Wissota Place Senior Living, where he has lived for the past two years.

Baughman was born in 1917 in Montana but moved to Sheldon in Rusk County when he was 1 year old. He married his wife of 76 years, Arline, on Nov. 21, 1940, and they were expecting their first child in 1942 when he was drafted.

“My oldest boy (Keith) was born Nov. 3, 1942, and I left (for basic training) the 19th of December,” he recalled. “My wife was still in the hospital when I left for my physical in Milwaukee.”

After being stationed at bases in Louisiana and Texas, Baughman was informed on D-Day, June 6, 1944, that he was headed to Europe.

“We landed in Scotland,” he said, explaining that the unit took a long way around the Atlantic Ocean. “It took us about six days to get there because the Germans had U-boats and were trying to sink our vessels.”

He was initially stationed in France but crossed into Germany on Oct. 2, 1944. Just six days later, on Oct. 8, he was hit during a firefight.

“I was wounded with shrapnel in the knee,” he said. “My buddy got killed, and I should have been. They threw a (bomb) at my foxhole, but it was a dud — it didn’t go off.”

Baughman was sent to a hospital to recover but was soon pressed back into action. He was immediately given a Purple Heart medal for being injured in combat.

“I didn’t get back to the front until Dec. 23,” he said.

As a member of the 119th Infantry Regiment, he fought off German troops closing in on an Allied base.

“They were headed toward our depot with supplies in the Netherlands,” Baughman said of the German soldiers. “If they got there, we would have been in trouble.”

He later developed a cyst on an ankle, and he had surgery on it in February 1945. He had just gotten back to duty when the war in Europe ended on May 10. However, he didn’t immediately leave Germany.

“When the war was over, they put us in occupation,” he explained. “I could now tell my wife in my letters where I was. Before, I could just tell her I was OK.”

Because Baughman hadn’t been in service long, he was headed back to the United States with orders to eventually head to the fighting in Japan.

“We stayed in France quite a while because there weren’t ships,” he said.

However, he was on a boat back to the U.S. when he learned on Aug. 6, 1945, that a bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, and Japan later surrendered.

“When I got back to the states, I got discharged and got to go home,” he said.

Baughman farmed much of his life, drove a milk truck and was a mail carrier for 25 years. He and his wife raised six children; one has since died. His wife, Arline, died on Jan. 21 this year.

He said he’s never been one to complain about the injury to his leg.

“I have a growth on the side of my knee from it,” he said. “But it doesn’t hurt too much.”

Baughman is the fifth of six children in his family. His youngest brother, Melvin, was shot down and killed during World War II, fighting in the Air Force. Baughman has his brother’s military medals in a display case next to his own. He said it was devastating for his parents to find out that Melvin had died — he had been declared missing in action for a year, and they hoped he would be found alive.

“They were always hoping he was a prisoner,” Baughman said. “All the other guys in his plane were prisoners.”

Baughman went on an Honor Flight in 2012 to see the memorials that honor his service in Washington, D.C. He still has a full collection of documents from his service, and he has every letter he ever wrote to Arline — she kept them all.

“I just thank the Lord I made it,” he said.

Baughman said he didn’t initially talk about his military service when he came home, but he started talking more openly about it after attending a few reunions with his fellow veterans.

However, he never watches movies about the war.

“I had seen enough of it — seen enough people killed,” he said.

Baughman is in an independent senior living facility, and his health is good.

“I never drank or smoked in my life,” he said. “My dad would say, ‘A cigarette is a fire on one end and a fool on the other.’ ”

Contact: 715-723-0303, chris.vetter@ecpc.com


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