June 21, 2011

Lloyd Herbert Hughes

Lloyd Herbert Hughes, Jr., Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, on July 12, 1921, the son of Lloyd Herbert Hughes, Sr., and Mildred Mae (Rainey) Hughes. Hughes’s parents divorced sometime after his birth. Mildred Hughes found employment as a postmaster in Onalaska in Polk County, Texas, in November 1923. In 1924 his mother married John Raymond Jordan. Between 1927 and 1931 the Jordan family lived in Oak Hurst in San Jacinto County, Huntsville, Josserand, and Refugio, Texas. By 1931 the Jordan family added four sons in addition to young Lloyd who was called “Pete” by family and friends.

Lloyd Hughes experienced success in academics and athletics in school. After beginning school in Oak Hurst in 1927, he spent most of his early years in the Refugio school system. Hughes was valedictorian of his seventh-grade graduation class. In high school, he served as the captain on both the football and basketball teams. He also found employment as a roughneck in the oil industry and with a newspaper and ice route during the summers and after school. After graduating from Refugio High School in the spring of 1939, Hughes enrolled at Texas A&M in the fall as a petroleum engineering major.

Assigned to the infantry in the Corps of Cadets, Hughes experienced academic problems during his first semester and withdrew at the end of the term. He then moved to Corpus Christi (where the Jordan family had moved in early 1939) and attended Corpus Christi Junior College (now Del Mar College) for two terms where his grades improved. He enrolled at Texas A&M in September 1941 and remained there until leaving school on December 3, 1941, due to his desire to assist his family and ailing stepfather.

On January 28, 1942, Hughes enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in San Antonio. After completing his primary pilot training in Tulsa and his basic pilot training at Enid, Oklahoma, he finished the advanced pilot training at Lubbock, Texas. On November 8, Hughes married Hazel Dean Ewing in San Antonio. He was assigned to the Four Engine Transition School, Combat Crew School at Tarrant Air Base in Fort Worth and finished his training and received his pilot’s wings and his commission as a second lieutenant on November 10, 1942.

In early 1943 Hughes was assigned as a pilot to the newly-formed 389th Heavy Bombardment Group at Biggs Army Air Field, Texas. This group was designated as part of Operation Tidal Wave (a low level bombing attack by B-24 heavy bombers on the Nazi-held oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania). After final instruction at Lowry Field, Colorado, and receiving crew formations and assignments to a B-24, the group arrived in England in June for flight training at treetop level. The group departed for Benghazi, Libya, on June 30, and in July Hughes’s unit flew four combat missions over Italy and the Mediterranean and spent ten days of intense low-level training for the raid on Ploesti.

In the early morning of August 1, Hughes’s plane, Ole Kickapoo, departed Benghazi as part of the 179 loaded B-24 Liberators (divided into five groups) for the 2,400-mile roundtrip to Ploesti. The 389th (nicknamed the “Sky Scorpions”) flew in the rear with two other groups. With Hughes as the pilot, Ole Kickapoo in the last formation approached its target region with enemy defenders fully alerted. Flying through intense anti-aircraft fire, Hughes’s plane took several direct hits that caused gasoline leaks in the bomb bay and the left wing. Aware of the danger and unwilling to leave the formation, Hughes piloted the plane to his assigned target in a blazing area where the bomb load was dropped. Flying away from the target with the left wing aflame, Hughes sought to land the aircraft in a dry riverbed, but the plane “crashed and was consumed.” Only three men of the ten-man crew survived the crash, and one died from burns two days later. The two survivors remained prisoners of war until the end of the conflict. Romanian authorities retrieved the bodies of Hughes and the other crewmen and buried them in Bolovan Cemetery. Fifty-four B-24s did not make it back to Benghazi. Military reports indicated that Hughes’s target area was so damaged that it did not resume production during the war.

For his “heroic decision to complete his mission regardless of the consequences in utter disregard of his own life,” the twenty-two-year-old Texan was recommended for the Medal of Honor; four other airmen also received the medal for their performance in Operation Tidal Wave. On April 18, 1944, Hazel Ewing Hughes was presented her husband’s posthumous Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Barton Yount in a ceremony at Kelly Field.

Second Lieutenant Lloyd Herbert Hughes, Jr., was honored in a number of ways years after his tragic death. In 1950 his body was returned to Texas, and on April 12 he was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. Texas A&M renamed a dormitory Lloyd H. Hughes Hall in 1969. In Corpus Christi, Del Mar College added Hughes to its Wall of Honor in 1995. A portrait of Hughes hangs in the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M. The Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center at Texas A&M also displays his original Medal of Honor beneath a bronze plaque of the former cadet. Hughes was the first Texas Aggie to receive the Medal of Honor.

For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On August 1943, 2d Lt. Hughes served in the capacity of pilot of a heavy bombardment aircraft participating in a long and hazardous minimum-altitude attack against the Axis oil refineries of Ploesti, Rumania, launched from the northern shores of Africa. Flying in the last formation to attack the target, he arrived in the target area after previous flights had thoroughly alerted the enemy defenses. Approaching the target through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire and dense balloon barrages at dangerously low altitude, his plane received several direct hits from both large and small caliber antiaircraft guns which seriously damaged his aircraft, causing sheets of escaping gasoline to stream from the bomb bay and from the left wing. This damage was inflicted at a time prior to reaching the target when 2d Lt. Hughes could have made a forced landing in any of the grain fields readily available at that time. The target area was blazing with burning oil tanks and damaged refinery installations from which flames leaped high above the bombing level of the formation. With full knowledge of the consequences of entering this blazing inferno when his airplane was profusely leaking gasoline in two separate locations, 2d Lt. Hughes, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of his assigned target at any cost, did not elect to make a forced landing or turn back from the attack. Instead, rather than jeopardize the formation and the success of the attack, he unhesitatingly entered the blazing area and dropped his bomb load with great precision. After successfully bombing the objective, his aircraft emerged from the conflagration with the left wing aflame. Only then did he attempt a forced landing, but because of the advanced stage of the fire enveloping his aircraft the plane crashed and was consumed. By 2d Lt. Hughes' heroic decision to complete his mission regardless of the consequences in utter disregard of his own life, and by his gallant and valorous execution of this decision, he has rendered a service to our country in the defeat of our enemies which will everlastingly be outstanding in the annals of our Nation's history.

GPS Coordinates 
29° 28.688, -098° 25.822 

Section U
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

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