The notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal’s trial began earlier this week in Paris. More than 35 years after the Jackal’s capture, we have Billy Waugh, among others, to thank for putting him behind bars.
Waugh, though, has been watching and targeting terrorists for nearly as long as such missions have existed. After hunting the Jackal, he shadowed Osama bin Laden in Sudan, and jogged past bin Laden’s compound near Khartoum every morning at dawn.
“I could have easily killed him a million times,” Waugh says. “But I didn’t have permission. I can’t just kill people without permission.”
Unofficially, Billy Waugh’s tour of duty has lasted more than 60 years. He enlisted in the army in 1948 and joined the Special Forces in 1954, before the program was two years old. After retiring from the army as a sergeant major, he went to work for the CIA and is now the agency’s longest operating contractor.
He’s 82 years old, has seen action in more countries around the world than most of us will ever visit (since 1989, he’s worked in 64 countries for the CIA), and has eight purple hearts. And nearly all of his work has been classified.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Waugh says. “And I still teach at Fort Bragg and to the FBI and gave a talk a few months ago to HALO (high-altitude, low opening parachute jump) instructors. And it’s all been about clandestine work—secret operations, doing things without being seen.”
In 1965 in Vietnam, Waugh was wounded so badly the North Vietnamese Army left him for dead. He’d been shot five times, had a head wound, and was trying to drag himself uphill when Navy pilots flying off the USS Yorktown provided air support for Waugh’s unit.
“The Navy saved my ass,” he says. “But we lost 25 men from SOG ops. That’s a lot of men from a highly classified unit.”
But Waugh’s unit had done plenty of damage on the ground. They were watching the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and his unit intercepted more than 1,500 NVA communication dispatches.
“We could have ended the war on June 3, 1967,” Waugh says.
In 1970, Waugh made the first recorded high-altitude, low-opening jump (from 19,000 feet at time 0300) into combat and broke his ankle for the eighth time—or maybe ninth, he’s not sure. Two years later, he retired from the Army as a Sergeant Major, having seen seven and a half years of combat.
Waugh was born in Bastrop, Texas, near Austin, in 1929. He enlisted in the Army in 1948 and soon thereafter entered jump school for airborne service. Six years later, he entered the Special Forces and shipped out for Vietnam. In 1965, he was shot to pieces by the NVA. After about a year of recovery at Walter Reed General Hospital, he re-upped for another tour.
Waugh is not at liberty to discuss much of what he did during 1970s and ’80s, though he took time to earn bachelors’ degrees in business management and political science from Wayland Baptist University. His various government contracts and jobs during this time landed him in Hawaii, Libya, Sudan, and the Kwajalein Atoll, which sits at seven degrees north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean and is all of 24 square miles.
In 1988, Waugh received a master’s degree in criminal justice and administration from Texas State University, San Marcos. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Waugh went to help. Since then he’s worked as both an employee and contractor for the government.
After September 11, 2001, Waugh made his first trip to Afghanistan. And though he was only there for four months, he made a difference.
“We kicked a lot of ass and took a lot of names,” he says. “They didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
Isaac Camacho soldiered alongside Waugh and was captured by the NVA. Waugh wrote the book about him as a tribute his service to the US.
“As a POW, he was chained to tree for two years,” Waugh says. “He’ll die knowing somebody wrote down his story. And he turned down the Medal of Honor, by the way.”
And now, after eight purple hearts, a silver star, and a slew of other decorations, Waugh can say he’s pulled some tough duty in some tough places. Waugh’s newest book will be released as soon as he finds time to finish it.