His is a hero’s story with lots of action,
battles and bravery. It’s one where words catch and snag on the
stories of others to tangle time and the memories of brothers,
soldiers and Aggie buddies.
Yet, even 65 years later, the untangling of
Pete’s story has a way of untangling the other people in it.
Lloyd Herbert “Pete” Hughes ’43 was born in
Alexandria, La., on July 12, 1921. That was the same year the
Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated in Arlington National
Cemetery and that first unknown was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Hughes would become a soldier, too, and upon his death in 1943,
would have the same Medal of Honor drape the corners of his
memory. Hughes, however, remains very much known. As the first
of seven Aggies to be awarded the Medal of Honor, he remains
The people filed in for just that purpose, to be
in attendance as Hughes’s Medal of Honor was formally presented
to the Sanders Corps Center. Men in suit coats and women in
heels; there were enough of them that March 30 that most every
chair in the Corps Center was filled. It was a mixed group:
Hughes’s family, Aggie Classmates, members of Hughes’ 389th
Bombardment Group, and current students not wanting to miss the
chance to listen once more to the story.
As the contagiousness of smiles spread around
the room, Col. James Woodall ’50, Corps of Cadets commandant
from 1977 to 1982, stepped up to the microphone to serve as
“In the fall of 1939, the handsome, 6-foot-2,
184-pound young man enrolled at the Agricultural and Mechanical
College of Texas,” Woodall started.
In high school, Hughes was captain of the
basketball squad and football team; in college, he studied
petroleum engineering and was a member of the Corps of Cadets
Company G, Infantry.
School was hard. Life was hard. Hughes withdrew
from TAMC briefly for both reasons. Once to work on scholastics
at a junior college, and then, shortly after his return in 1941,
to help support his family after his father became ill.
“Four days after leaving College Station, Pearl
Harbor was bombed and America was at war,” Woodall said. Hughes
was 20 years old when he enlisted as an aviation cadet in
January 1942 and 22 when his group took flight as part of
Operation Tidal Wave, the most highly decorated military mission
in U.S. history, according to U.S. Air Force records.
Hughes was assigned to bomb a Nazi-held oil
refinery in Campina. It was an 18-hour, 2,400-mile round-trip
mission, and Hughes’ plane received several direct hits as it
flew closer to the target. “Sheets of escaping gasoline streamed
from the left wing and the extra fuel tanks,” Woodall said.
Flames from burning oil tanks leaped in the
plane’s path. Woodall said Hughes could have made a forced
landing in any of the grain fields, but rather than jeopardize
the formation and the success of the mission, Hughes flew
through the fire and put his bombs on target to have his plane
crash in flames.
Hughes’s widow, Hazel, accepted the Medal of
Honor on Hughes’ behalf April 18, 1944. And, Aggies accepted it
in 2009 to remember, tell and untangle the story of freedom.