Brigadier General Richard Baughn is an American hero, a decorated fighter pilot.
He flew P-51 Mustangs in World War II.
He’s a command pilot with more than 7,000 flying hours, including 5,000 in jet fighter aircraft.
He had five tours of duty in Vietnam.
He’s written an air war novel, The Hellish Vortex: Between Breakfast and Dinner.
He’s also a tennis player.
In September, Baughn will turn 100 years old. He lives in Austin, Texas, a college city and the state capital, with tree-covered hills and a river running through the downtown, and plays tennis twice a week at Lost Creek Country Club.
Reminiscing on his tennis journey, Baughn says, “I probably played tennis a dozen times before high school, but was really interested in football and basketball.”
It wasn’t until 1974 that Baughn’s love of tennis truly took flight.
“I didn’t start playing until I was assigned to Saigon, Vietnam, where I had two tennis courts next to where I lived,” he says, underscoring the stroke of serendipity that led him to the sport.
“Before that, I played golf in my spare time. My work schedule in Saigon didn’t permit enough time to play golf, and the old French golf courses weren’t the safest places.”
In his younger days, Baughn says he had a pretty good serve and preferred baseline play.
His forehand is the strongest part of his game. Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras were some of his favorites.
At Lost Creek Country Club in Austin, Baughn has a regular match. “I have four other old geezers I play with.”
Echoing his fighter pilot background, he’s given them each a call sign. They are assigned by age. “As the oldest, I’m Geezer One. Geezer Two is 95, Geezer Three is 92, Geezer Four is 86, and Geezer Five is 75. We call him Junior.
“Most of the time, we have four healthy ones for doubles.
“A few years ago, we had a fairly respectable level of play, but it’s gone downhill. The slippery slope of age really steepens after 85-90. Due to frail backs, lack of balance, strength, etc., we’ve had to modify our games—especially our serves.
“When young people ask about our game, I tell them that we have the mobility of fence posts, and if the ball hits our racquet, we might get it back.
“In reality, we are approaching that level of play. However, we are not deterred by that! We still play or try to play and normally get it done twice a week.”
Clearly, the camaraderie among Baughn and his fellow players perseveres.
Reflecting on his experiences with tennis, Baughn shares, “Tennis is a wonderful sport, and I only wish I had taken it up sooner, maybe when I was five or six. Even with my late start, it has been a strong mental and physical stabilizer.
“Being an ancient geezer, it has been wonderful therapy. I’m certain that along with a wonderful wife, a good diet, and a break on my genes, tennis has contributed to my longevity.
“As a young child, I had an urge to fly, and having been a fighter pilot during my adult life, even with loss of more friends than I can count—I have been a happy camper.”
From the skies to the court to the page, General Baughn is awe-inspiring. My interview with him was conducted by email. At the end of our conversation, he signed off like this:
Dick—The Ancient Fighter Pilot, Older Than Dirt, But Still Above It