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They got to know their grandfather on the beaches of Normandy, 70 years later.

James Baugh, a charter member in the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, participated in the D-Day invasion of France in 1944.

He was one of the lucky ones who survived World War II and came home — home to his beloved hometown of Milledgeville.

Baugh went to medical school and became a pillar of Milledgeville, as a physician, mayor, civic leader — as well as husband, father and grandfather.

Dr. Baugh met his future wife — Betty George (Beegee) Clark — well after the war was over. He had just finished medical school in Augusta, and she had just finished her degree at Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville.

Jimmy and Beegee went back to Normandy for the 40th and 50th anniversary celebrations. 

“I didn’t know much about the war,” Beegee said. “I just knew about the stories Jimmy told, the things they did and how he loved being involved with his fellow soldiers.

“He loved every bit of it (going back to Normandy). That’s why I wanted the grandchildren to go. To get an idea of what their grandfather went through. Normandy was so important to him.”

Dr. Baugh’s health had started declining around the time of the 60th reunion, so the couple did not attend. 

It also meant that grandchildren Ellie Thompson (now Waddell) and her brother Nathan Thompson, who were still youngsters then, got to spend less time with their Papa. Their mother, Patricia Baugh Thompson, is the Baugh’s only child.

Dr. Baugh passed away in 2010.

So as the 70th anniversary of D-Day rolled around, Beegee (Nana to her grandchildren) arranged a trip to Normandy for the three of them.

She wanted them to walk where their grandfather had walked.

“Knowing Papa’s story and how much Normandy shaped his future, it was amazing walking on those same beaches,” said Ellie, now 29 and a CPA with the Deloitte consulting and accounting firm. “Instead of reading about it or seeing it in the movies, it was a completely different scenario to see it in person. This is something that really happened. It was very surreal.”

Ellie said she is a lot like her grandmother in that she’s not normally an emotional person.

“But the wave of emotion that came over me … the tears flowed,” she said. “It was just astonishing that my grandfather, thank God, he was one who made it out alive.”

Beegee said that David Eisenhower, grandson of Gen. (and future president) Dwight Eisenhower, and one of British prime minister Winston Churchill’s granddaughters were among the speakers at Normandy.

They talked about the soldiers who stormed the beach and the soldiers who arrived in gliders.

“It really brought things to life,” Ellie said, as did the flags, vintage military vehicles and planes flying overhead during the 70th anniversary celebration.

Another big thing at the Normandy celebration was how welcoming the French people were. Sometimes in Europe, tourists are considered “ugly Americans.”

“But there was a complete change of attitude at Normandy,” Ellie said. “There was a lot of grateful behavior. It was nice to see how they appreciated the sacrifice.”

Many of Dr. Baugh’s friends and classmates were not as fortunate during the war.

Baugh’s book “From Skies of Blue” was dedicated to the memory of his friend Lt. Jasper Booth, who was killed in action at Normandy. A Georgia Military College classmate of Baugh’s named Dennis Turner and Turner’s older brother, Billy, were killed not far from each other at Normandy.

Baugh had his 23rd birthday the month before Normandy, and he wrote that he felt it would likely be his last.

“I knew, whenever our troops landed and whatever mission was given, we would be successful,” Baugh wrote in his book. “The spirit de corps was simply amazing. This group therapy, or conditioning the human to do the impossible, to place life and limb in jeopardy when ordered, undoubtedly represented the highest degree of training that an army could attain.”

Baugh’s service in World War II carried him through action in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium and Holland. He earned a Bronze Star Medal for his bravery. One of his proudest moments in combat came when one of his gilder pilots was killed. He landed the gilder, ensuring the safety of others in the glider unit. 

Baugh had seen the world and at the end of the war he was ready to see his family, which included four brothers and four sisters. Three of his brothers and one sister also served in WWII, giving their mother a five-star designation.

He came home to Baldwin County a changed man.

“During my college days and before, I had been a very shy individual,” Baugh wrote in his book. “Becoming a part of an aggressive organization had rubbed off on me. The confidence instilled in those who received the airborne training and the idea of being something special began to permeate my personality in ways I could reflect and see.

“In crowds, I would find myself walking more alertly, proudly and with my head held high.”

Baugh was a doctor in Milledgeville for over 50 years. He served as mayor for 18 years. He was president of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was a Mason, an honorary member of the Kappa Alpha Fraternity and a member of the First United Methodist Church.

This past April, Baugh was inducted into the GMC Hall of Heroes, an honor that pays tribute to an alumnus of the GMC Corps of Cadets who has demonstrated extraordinary service to the nation while bringing honor to GMC.

Ellie and Nathan walked where their grandfather had walked — where Dr. James Baugh learned lessons that made him an extraordinary veteran and man.

“I am grateful to have had that experience with my Nana and my brother,” Ellie said. “It is something that I will never again take for granted. It helps me remember my grandfather in more ways than can be counted.”

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