The charm of the Lowcountry has drawn many to this area, and Charleston is indeed fortunate that retired Air Force Major General Charlie Baldwin and his wife Anne are among them. How they landed in Charleston makes a good story.
Son of an Air Force Chaplain, Charlie Baldwin was born in New Haven, Connecticut, while his father was at Yale Divinity School. His dad was an old-school Baptist preacher—loud and long. His mother was born and raised in China as the daughter of missionaries. The Baldwin youngsters greatly benefitted from their nurturing Christian home environment. Charlie’s sister became a school teacher in Winston Salem, where she taught second grade for thirty years. Her strong faith and love of life has made her able to survive 28 surgeries for removing malignant tumors. Charlie’s brother became an Air Force JAG (lawyer for the layman) who has practiced as a trial lawyer in Kansas City since his retirement.
After divinity school, Charlie’s father became an Air Force Chaplain, and the family was forced to adapt to the many moves required of service life. By the time young Charlie was entering his sophomore year in high school, his family had moved to Winston Salem, North Carolina. He attended R. J. Reynolds High School, where he joined in many sports and school activities. His performance was so outstanding that a long-forgotten congressman gave him an appointment to the Air Force Academy.
Once at the Academy, Charlie was in his element. He was in the class of 1969, and all the cadets knew that after graduation they would be heading to Southeast Asia, for Vietnam was in full swing. He loved being a cadet and the very last thing on his mind was going into the ministry. That is until he attended a revival in Colorado Springs in his junior year. He felt a call into the ministry and surrendered his life to full-time ministry. He was active in church activities and met his wife Anne at the Baptist Student Union. They married the day after Charlie’s graduation from the Air Force Academy.
Air Force policy prevented Charlie’s becoming a Chaplain until he had served on active duty, so he joined his classmates in Vietnam. His first assignment was flying the EC121 Super Constellation, but not one to do things in a small way, Charlie volunteered for the dangerous helicopter rescue duty and returned to the United States for further training. He flew the HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter from Da Nang Air Base (1972-1973).By then the war was ramping down, and following his dream of becoming an Air Force Chaplain, Charlie resigned his active duty commission and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where his grandfather had gone before him.
Charlie earned a Master of Divinity in 1977 and became an assistant pastor in a Spirit-filled church in Central Indiana. He led a “Bus Ministry” where twenty-five buses brought 500 children to church every Sunday. Charlie saw the power of the Holy Spirit work in many lives. People came to Christ; the sick were healed; and God laid a foundation of Spirit-filled faith in the heart of the new pastor.
Wanting to fulfill Air Force requirements, Charlie became a senior pastor at a small church in Taylorsville, Indiana, seventy miles away. Shortly afterwards, there was a tremendous Book-of-Acts revival at his old church. A one-week event stretched into six months as hurting people flocked to be healed of various diseases. Many came to Christ, and Charlie greatly benefitted from being able to share in this amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Once he had the necessary qualifications, Charlie re-entered the Air Force and was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. It was peacetime, and he became part of the military circuit, serving in a variety of posts including the remote Decimomanu Air Force Base in Sardinia. After a tour at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, he landed at the Myrtle Beach base just before Hurricane Hugo hit the South Carolina coast.
In August of the following year, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The A-10 pilots and their support were sent to the largest air base in Saudi Arabia, King Fahd International Air Base. This facility had not yet been officially opened and it was converted into an American base with two large air-transportable hospitals, six squadrons of A-10s, and Special Operations airplanes.
Ministering during time of war was the highlight of Charlie’s career. He preached four to six times on Sundays, feeling all the while that his entire life had prepared him for the experience. Having flown into battle himself, he could relate to the men’s fears and could assure them of God’s grace. As with other warriors before them, the men daily read Psalm 91 for their protection and their shield. In spite of deadly scorpions and snakes, in spite of flights over hostile territory, very few American servicemen died. There were close calls. Once a huge maverick radar-guided missile was accidentally launched during routine maintenance; it ran into a barricade and never exploded before it was finally dismantled weeks later. There were twenty-five SCUD missile attacks against the base, and not a single one hit their base. Large sections of planes were blown away, and yet all landed safely back at base. During Desert Storm, under the protection of God’s grace, the U. S. lost 100 men, while the enemy lost over 100,000. The Myrtle Beach base was closed after the conflict, something that was very difficult for the men who had served.
In 1993 Charlie went to Washington as the chief assignment officer of Protestant chaplains. The following year he attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Afterwards he served in various capacities before he was the command chaplain for the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs. He went on the serve as deputy chief of Chaplain Service before becoming chief of chaplains in 2004. In that capacity he was responsible for establishing an effective total chaplain program for approximately 2,200 chaplains and their assistants from both active and reserve components who minister to more than 710,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian Air Force personnel worldwide. General Baldwin and others were responsible for advising the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical, and quality-of-life concerns.
Amazingly, Charlie was at the Pentagon on September 11 and watched television as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Once the second plane hit, the meeting he was attending broke off, and Charlie headed to another meeting that had been scheduled on the side of the building where the third plane hit. As he was en route, he passed the cafeteria and decided to stop for a latte since there was extra time. Within minutes the commandeered aircraft crashed into the building. Everyone was ordered to evacuate. Charlie not only saw the fireball, he also was on the spot to minister to the wounded for the rest of the day.
When the Shuttle Columbia blew up in 2003, Charlie was privileged to preach at the memorial service held in Washington’s National Cathedral.
One of Charlie’s most cherished memories was at Andrews Air Force Base. President Bush landed at the same time that a planeload of wounded combatants arrived. The President left the routine landing ceremonies and took a single photographer to the hospital plane where he personally thanked every warrior for his sacrifices. A photograph was taken of each and every wounded serviceman receiving the grateful thanks of his Commander in Chief.
In all Charlie spent thirty-nine years in the Air Force and felt deeply honored to serve until he retired in July 2008. As he and his wife had lived in many locations, yet they had no real place to call home. Anne suggested Paris, but Charlie said, “Pick again.” They reviewed the bases where Charlie had served. The motorcycles at Gettysburg were a real turn-off. Although they had only visited a couple of times, they finally selected Charleston. They sold their home in Washington and found a beautiful home in Gift Plantation on John’s Island. It has been a happy choice, for the Baldwin’s enjoy the ambiance of the moss-draped live oaks and the restful marshlands that slowly change their colors with the seasons. For local color an alligator has decided to live in their backyard pond.
On a personal note, the Baldwins have three married children and eight beautiful grandchildren. They spent months looking for a church home before they were drawn in by the powerful preaching, Spirit-filled ministries, and hospitality of the friendly folks at St. Michael’s church. Although retired, Charlie soon was invited to join the staff as minister for pastoral care and healing prayer. He has quickly become part of the community and plans to use his talents in activities that support our troops, especially those who have survived the rigors of combat.
The Lowcountry welcomes General and Mrs. Baldwin and thanks them for many years of serving God and the military.
This article is a reprint from the Charleston Mercury