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Portraits of War: James Henry Baugham

Jessica A. Bandel

Just two months in to his freshman year at North Carolina State College of Agricultural and Engineering (NC State’s precursor), Washington, North Carolina native James Henry Baugham determined to abandon his academic pursuits in favor of flight training. His young age, however—eighteen!—barred him from joining the U. S. Air Service, forcing him to find an alternative path to the war-torn skies above Europe.

In the spring of 1917, Baugham traveled to Newport News, Virginia, to attend Curtiss Aviation School, where he graduated on June 20. Two weeks later, he landed in France and joined the Lafayette Flying Corps. He was the only North Carolinian to enter the French flying service with prior piloting experience.

Following six more months of flight instruction with the French, Baugham was assigned to Escadrille 157, a pursuit—or fighter—squadron. He remained with this squadron until June 27, 1918, when he was transferred to Escadrille 98. Four days later, the fearless Tar Heel engaged, without support, three enemy aircraft in the vicinity of Villers-Cotterets. Baugham put up a fierce fight but was forced to withdraw toward French lines after suffering a mortal wound and severe damage to his aircraft. He died in a French hospital the following day, July 2, 1918, at age nineteen.

Officially credited with two kills, Baugham is North Carolina’s most accomplished native-born fighter pilot to fly for France. His meritorious service earned him two French decorations: a Croix de Guerre with palm and the Médaille Militaire.