Joseph Bradshaw Baggett – Major, United States Air Force

Joseph Bradshaw Baggett was born on April 18, 1930 and joined the Armed Forces while in Fort Pierce, Florida.

He served in the United States Air Force, and in 12 years of service, he attained the rank of Major.

On December 16, 1965, at the age of 35, Joseph Bradshaw Baggett perished in the service of our country in South Vietnam, Gia Dinh.

Fort Pierce native memorialized on wall


PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA — The year-old girl in the arms of President Lyndon Johnson didn't know what to do with the candy he gave her. She decided the president's mouth was a good place to put it, and she forced her tiny fingers inside.

That was Laura Baggett's 1966 encounter with the president during a ceremony honoring her father, an Air Force pilot who died in combat over Vietnam.

Joseph Bradshaw Baggett will be honored again this morning as one of 1,952 people memorialized on the Florida Vietnam Veterans War Memorial dedicated in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

“He was trying to give her candy and she didn't even know what it was,” said Nancy Cortner, Baggett's wife, who later remarried and took her second husband's last name. She now lives in Pennsylvania.

“He was very nice to us that day,” Cortner said of Johnson.

Cortner, her daughters and mother-in-law met Johnson shortly after they buried Baggett in Arlington National Cemetery.

Family members said he was the first pilot to die while flying the F-5, a new plane he helped test for the Air Force and ended up following to Vietnam.

“He was interested in the airplane and wanted to see how it would actually perform,” said Howard Baggett, Joseph's eldest brother who lives in Fort Pierce. “So he volunteered to go back with it.”

Baggett was born and raised in Fort Pierce, the fourth of seven children of Martha and Bill Baggett, the St. Lucie County clerk of the circuit court from 1951 until 1960. Six of the seven children were boys, and all served in the military.

Joseph's Air Force career began after a short stint at the University of Florida. It took him to Korea where he flew missions during the war, and later back to the United States to complete his bachelor's degree at Syracuse University in 1957.

He met his wife, Nancy, while both were living on an Air Force base in Suffolk County, England. She was an American teacher, and he lived down the hall from her in hotel-style arrangements.

“He was quiet, and he was very good looking,” Nancy said. “I think we were just interested in the same thing and enjoyed talking together.”

Eventually their conversations turned to something more, and the couple decided to marry. They returned to the United States in 1961 for the ceremony.

“My poor parents met him the night before we got married,” Nancy said.

But they liked him, and her father, a minister, married the couple. Three moves and two daughters later, Baggett left for Vietnam in 1965. He was testing a new plane, the F-5, and 12 were being sent to Vietnam in the early days of the war.

“He hated desk jobs. He wanted to fly. That's what he loved doing,” recalled his sister, Martha Mier, who traveled from Lake City for today's ceremony.

Nancy said she wasn't excited about her husband's departure because they had two young children to care for, but she understood it was what he had to do.

“It was so early on in the war nobody was talking about it much,” she said. “I had to look up where it was.”

About five months later when someone knocked on the front door of her house on a Virginia Air Force base, she looked out the window and knew something had happened to her husband.

The military car parked in the driveway gave the news away before the officer, clergyman and nurse reached the door.

“We were busy getting ready for Christmas at our house,” Nancy recalled. “Hardly anyone came to the front door. I looked out and there it was.”

The news of Joseph's death was doubly heartbreaking to his family in Fort Pierce already mourning another death.

“Our daddy died on the same day around the same time as near as we can figure it,” Howard Baggett recalled.

So they buried a father, caravaned to Arlington to bury a son, and kept his memory alive for his young daughters.

Laura and Jennifer were raised by their mother and her second husband, all of them taking the name Cortner. When the girls were young, the visited the Baggetts in Fort Pierce about once a year.

When the girls got into high school and college, the annual visits tapered off. More recently, they have reconnected with the Baggetts at family reunions.

Laura, now 38, said at one of the first reunions she attended as an adult, she ran around with a tape recorder, asking her uncles and aunt to tell her stories about her father.

If not for the memories from her relatives, Laura her father would have remained just pictures of a man she was too young to remember.

“I'm finding he was a hero to this family, even before he went off and became a war hero,” Laura said.

Baggett's relatives said they are happy to see him honored today and glad something was done not only for him but also for so many others.

“I'm glad to see it put up like this,” Howard said when he saw the wall for the first time. “It will make people more aware of how many people got killed.”

September 2004:

I recently came across the memorial to Major Baggett on your web site.

During 1958, when I was a college undegraduate at Syracuse University, then First Lieutenant Baggett was my room mate for one semester while he was completing his degree. He showed me the Distinguished Flying Cross that he had been awarded after being shot down near Vladovostak, Russia, during the Korean War, and an article in the Air Force Times which stated that two pilots were awared the DFC, but because the circumstances were classified, neither the facts nor the identity of the pilots could be published.

I note that although the Purple Heart is shown on his memorial site, the DFC is not.  I would like to see it added.

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