Remembering Pete Hughes
and his band of brothers
Refugio’s only Congressional Medal of Honor winner
Second Lt. Lloyd "Pete" Hughes is the only Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
By KENDA NELSON
Editor, County Press - posted May 31 2007
The home on Plasuela Street where 2nd Lt. Lloyd Herbert “Pete” Hughes grew up
is gone. Telltale signs that a house might have stood there are the thick growth
of hackberry and anaqua trees that flank two sides of the property and a crowded
row of giant salt cedars across the back.
On Memorial Day, the wind from a nearby raincloud rustled through the thick salt
cedars, releasing sounds similar to faint squeals from children at play. On this
spot more than 60 years ago, a band of brothers, bonded by friendship, aroused the
best of the spirit of America.
Pete and his friends Benny Jones, Will and John Borglund, Dick Bartow, Rex Pitzer
and Pete’s three brothers, James, John and Paul Jordan, gathered regularly on this
now-abandoned lot for games of football, baseball, monopoly or just fooling around.
A member of the Refugio High School Class of 1939, Pete was the kind of guy who
looked out for his friends and their little brothers. A Bobcat offensive end, Pete
was tall, strong and respected.
“If there was a bully picking on you, Pete would straighten that out,” John Borglund
The old water tower across the street challenged at least two of the athletes.
For fun, Benny and Pete often kicked the football as high as they could muster in
hope of hitting the water tower. But that never happened.
The boys often met at the bubbles, a swimming hole near Lions/Shelly Park where
a series of artesian wells once sent cool, fresh water foaming up into the Mission
“Pete taught me how to swim at the bubbles,” John said. “He was a big, strong
kid. Benny was smaller but he was strong for his size. When I tried to tackle him
when we played football, it never fazed him, even when I hit him with all I had.
Pete, Benny and Will were real good friends.”
Their halcyon days of football and youth ended abruptly on Dec. 7, 1941, the
day bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor. The boys from the class of 1939 enlisted
Pete, who was at Texas A&M, joined the Army Air Corps and became a pilot. So
did Benny and Rex. Fearless of heights, Dick became a paratrooper. His choice was
not a surprise to the boys because Dick often climbed the railroad trestle bridge
across the Mission River for fun while most of the fellows watched nervously. Will
joined the Marines. The younger brothers of the band anxiously waited for their
birthdays and their turn to serve.
Second Lt. Hughes was 21 when his wings were pinned onto his uniform. A year
later, he was flying in North Africa in the last mission of his life, Operation
Tidal Wave. Pete’s position was in the last element of a formation of 179 B-24s
bound for Ploesti, Romania. The objective of the 18-hour, 2,400-mile flight was
to destroy the Nazi-held oil refineries 30 miles north of Bucharest.
The mission is the most highly decorated of World War II, with five men earning
the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery, three awarded posthumously, including
Flying barely above treetop height under the radar, the element of surprise had
disappeared by the time Pete arrived at the destination. His aircraft was pummeled
by small and large anti-aircraft fire, sending sheets of fuel streaming from the
bomb bay and left wing. The flow of gasoline blinded his waist-gunner’s view. The
oil tanks below were blazing; the scalding flames vaulting above the formation’s
The consequences of taking a gasoline-soaked aircraft through the inferno did
not escape Pete. The plane had already begun to burn.
No shame would have come to the young man, barely 22, if he had turned back and
made an emergency landing in one of the available grain fields. But destroying Rommel’s
fuel supply was vastly important for the troops fighting in North Africa. So Pete
elected to finish his job.
The young pilot successfully bombed his target but emerged with the aircraft’s
left wing fully ablaze. Attempting to crash land, Pete pulled his aircraft up and
banked left. The wing went spiraling away, sending the aircraft cartwheeling
into the ground. There were ten crew members: Six died
in the crash, two died of their wounds within days and two survived to become
prisoners of war.
History credits the Ploesti mission for shortening the war in North
Africa. Without fuel supplies, Rommel’s reign in the desert ended and the troops
moved to Italy, one step closer to winning the war.
Many others in the little band of Plasuela Street heroes also gave the ultimate
sacrifice. The feisty member of the group, Benny, was commended for shooting down
two German planes before he met his death in his cockpit. During one especially
long mission, he ran out of fuel but managed to get his fighter plane safely back
to the base on fumes.
Rex and his P38 were shot down and lost as well. Will made it home alive but
not unscathed. He received a Purple Heart for heroic service in the South Pacific.
Dick was killed over Italy as he parachuted to the ground.
John Borglund remembers the day Dick returned to RHS to say hello before he was
deployed. Borglund, still contemplating which branch of service to join and counting
the days until his father could sign an age waiver, inquired about Dick’s job.
“I asked Dick what kind of an outfit was the paratroopers,” John said. “Dick
said, ‘No, John, you don’t want to do that.’”
Raising his pant legs, Dick revealed swollen, painful knees. It was the last
time he saw Dick.
John’s dad signed his waiver when he turned 17 and he joined the Navy. Pete’s
younger brother also enlisted. The little band of Refugio brothers all served their
country, and all were decorated.
During World War II, the U.S. became the most powerful force in the world. But
victory is not found in equipment, skill and weaponry alone. The American spirit,
born with George Washington at Valley Forge, continues to manifest itself in communities
like Refugio County’s, producing heroes like Pete Hughes and his band of brothers
who once kicked footballs at the town’s water tower.
Remembering Pete Hughes
and his band of brothers, by Kenda Nelson, Editor, posted 31 May 2007 at the
Refugio County Press web site,
but no longer available.