Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Walter E. Hughes, who served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
Walter E. Hughes was born in October 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. When he was 7 years old, his father passed away. At the age of 12, Hughes started working on his stepfather’s tugboat and two years later, he became a merchant seaman, working on government tugboats. Because of this, he received a military service deferral. He later enlisted in the Army in 1944. He hoped to go to a boat-handling school in Virginia, which was a popular destination for tugboat seamen in the Army. Instead, the Army sent him to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Since the Army needed replacements, Hughes only spent four weeks in basic training. He trained in the wiremen and radio operators school for artillery. At Fort Bragg, he saw a sign advertising that the Army paratroopers offered $50 more a month—which doubled what he was making. He volunteered to become a paratrooper and transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, for five weeks of training. After this, he went to the United Kingdom to serve with the 504th Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division.
At 18 years old, Hughes made his first jump during Operation Market Garden. He landed near Grave in the Netherlands and fought in the Battle of Nijmegen. The paratroopers gained control over the Nijmegen railway bridge before the Germans destroyed it. The paratroopers held their position and then went to Soissons, France. During the operation, Hughes suffered shrapnel wounds.
Later, Hughes fought in the Battle of the Bulge. During the battle, he flanked an enemy position and this photo later appeared on a Belgian postage stamp. Due to a case of trench foot, he went to a field hospital in Paris. When doctors considered amputating his right foot, Hughes left the hospital, rejoined his division, and helped liberate Camp Wöbbelin in Germany. In 1946, Hughes left the Army as a private.
For his service, Hughes received many awards, including a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and France’s Legion of Honor medal. At home, Hughes continued working on tugboats. He founded the Walter E. Hughes Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association. In May 2016, he was inducted into the New York Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame. Hughes passed away in December 2016 at 91 years old.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Nathaniel Scott
Editors: Theresa Lyon and Brooke Wolfenbarger
Fact checker: Timothy Georgetti
Graphic artist: Philip Levine