Hometown Hero: Beau Billeaudeaux

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By Tyler Francke, Contributing Writer

United States Air Force Captain Beau Billeaudeaux was 6 years old the first time he tried to fly. The Louisiana native had awakened on Christmas morning to the perfect present: a pint-sized replica of the World War II-era Curtiss P-40 Warhawk—complete with pedals and designed to be driven around. But that seemed a bit too pedestrian for young Beau.

“In my mind, it was a plane, and planes are meant for flying,” he recalls with a chuckle.
So, that’s exactly what he did—or tried to do. “I always wanted to be a flier from very early on,” Beau says. “So when I got my little P-40, I put on a helmet and scarf and tried to take off and fly. Instead, I went right off the edge of the porch and broke my arm.”

Sadly, Beau never joined the ranks of pilots due to poor eyesight. “I wanted my wings desperately,” he admits. “I always felt if you’re going to be an officer in the AirForce, and you want to be the best you can, you’ve got to have wings.”

Yet, he still enjoyed a fruitful career with the Air Force and Reserve that spanned nearly 15 years. Beau joined the military in 1960 after earning a geology degree with a focus in petroleum engineering at the University of New Mexico. His commission with the ROTC enabled him to enter at the rank of second lieutenant.

Tulle Air Force Base
Thulle Air Force Base

Growing up deep in the heart of Acadiana, also known as Cajun Country, Beau learned to speak French before he learned English—a skill he hoped might help him secure a choice assignment in the military. “I was hoping for beautiful French women and wine,” he recalls with a laugh. “Instead, I got Eskimos and icebergs. They told me, ‘You’re going to northern Greenland.’”

He was given a command at the top-secret Thule Air Base, which derives its name from a mythical island of ancient Greece whose name meant “farthest.” Surrounded by ice floes and fjords, the installation is the only place on Earth where four active icebergs come together.

“It was four months of total daylight, four months of total darkness, and four months of half and half,” he says with a laugh. “We saw temperatures of 70 below zero. You’d spit and it would be frozen before it hit the ground.”

Though remote, Thule would play a critical role in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, one of the most significant military confrontations of the Cold War, and an episode Beau still remembers as one of the most dramatic of his career.

“It was a frightening week; it really was,” he recalls. “This was before the days of satellites so we had this giant radar dish, this ballistic missile early warning system. I had 100 young men under me and I had to try to keep them calm. We came very close to catastrophic nuclear war, and we would have been the first to know about it.”

Beau went on to serve assignments at Eglin and Tyndall Air Force bases in Florida and Selfridge Air Base in Michigan, before joining the Air Force Reserve in 1966 and retiring from military service altogether in 1973.

“I never regretted a thing,” he says today. “I was so fond and proud of my service. There’s just something about being in the Air Force that was really neat.”