(photo with caption: Lt. Gen. Barton K. Younts presents Pete Hughes' wife, Hazel
Ewing Hughes, with a posthumous Medal of Honor for her husband during a ceremony
at Kelly Field in San Antonio on April 18, 1944.)
Rebecca Jordan filled with pride Monday as she stared into a
glass case at Texas A&M University set up as a tribute to her uncle.
Inside rested silver pilot's wings neatly laid out and a gray
photo of a smirking Pete Hughes with flight goggles pushed over his forehead.
And, in the center, was the coveted Medal of Honor -- the
nation's highest award for valor.
"I'm ecstatic that it's here," said Jordan, who, with several
other of Hughes' family members, was at the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center to
officially present the medal for safe keeping. "It's going to be viewed by every
person that comes to this building."
Jordan, now 53 and living in Austin, was several years away from
being born the day Hughes died during a 1943 bombing raid over German-held oil
refineries in the Romanian town of Campina, actions that made him the first of
seven Aggies to receive the Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress.
But she had heard the story before.
Gasoline spewed from 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. "Pete" Hughes' mortally
wounded B-24 bomber, the victim of Nazi anti-aircraft fire or flak from the
exploding refineries just 50 feet below.
Hughes, the aircraft's pilot and 1943 Texas A&M graduate, could
have attempted an emergency landing at nearby grain fields, but continued
dropping the bombs. The 10-man crew completed the mission, but the plane
crashed, killing Hughes and seven other crew members.
Now, the medal will join three others that Texas A&M has
acquired: those of Turney Leonard, Class of '42; Dennis Keathley, Class of '37;
and Eli Whiteley, Class of '41.
"You've given us a piece of your heart," said John Van Alstyne,
the Corps' commandant, to the family. "We'll cherish it. We'll honor it."
Several family members spanning generations -- from Hughes'
brother, John Jordan, to Jordan's grandson, a current Texas A&M student --
gathered at the center Monday morning to remember the Army pilot's actions that
day. Several dozen community members, including current cadets, joined them.
Nearly 3,450 Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor
since Jacob Parrott became the first recipient after trekking deep into Southern
territory during the Civil War. The 33rd Ohio Infantry division private captured
a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an effort to destroy bridges and tracks
between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Hughes' family members point to the persistence of James
Woodall, a former Corps commandant, in their decision to leave the medal in the
hands of the Corps.
The center had two of the seven medals. But in November 2007,
Woodall's quest to secure the rest began. He spent the next year or so scouring
the Internet, surfing genealogy and other Web sites.
His goal is to house all of them at Texas A&M.
"They really ought to be here," he said.