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Hughes honored for WWII service

Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico took Lowell Hughes and 29 other veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam to Washington DC to honor them for their service. Hughes shows off the quilt of honor that he was given upon his return. (Curtis Michaels Photo)

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Lowell Hughes was enlisted in World War II.

“I was in the Army Combat Engineers,” Hughes said, “the 45th. I was enlisted. I was in the motor pool and I drove everything we had. We had 11 dumptrucks. We had an air compressor truck. We had two Cats, a D8 diesel and a gasoline, and we had the trucks with trailers that they were on. We had trouble finding bivouac areas.

“Our duty was to get the infantry through. We took mines out and made bypasses with bridges, and we did whatever we had to do just to get the infantry through.”

One of the last missions of the war left him with a memory that has haunted him ever since.

“I was at Dachau prison camp,” Hughes said. “It was one of the larger prison camps. Our infantry company saw it first, I got there about a half an hour later. There were about 20 coal cars filled with people who were being brought in to be processed. But they knew that we were close and they left them there to die. That was the first thing I saw. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve often wondered what would happen if we had lost that war.”

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He feels it’s important that future generations appreciate what they’ve got because of that war, and to take care of it.

“I go to Sidney Gutierrez Charter School,” Hughes said. “Leslie Lawner has me tell her seventh graders about the war. My main thing I tell them about is the freedom that they have.”

Hughes and some other war veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam were recently honored by Honor Flights of Southern New Mexico.

“I went out of Las Cruces,” he said. “There were 30 veterans altogether, 13 World War II vets, 13 from Korea and four or five from Vietnam. They took us to Washington, D.C. on Southwest Airlines, free of charge. I thought that was nice of them.”

Honor Flights have been celebrating our war veterans for 10 years now.

“This was the 10th trip they’ve made,” he said. “This was the first time they laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I was picked to be one of the people to do that. I thought that was quite an honor.

“They treated us like kings. Every time we turned around they were feeding us something. Every time we’d hit an airport there might be a thousand people waiting for planes and they’d all clap until we went form one end of the airport to the other. Small children would come over to shake our hands and thank us for our service. When I could, I thanked their parents for teaching them about us.”

It was a quick and eventful trip.

“We landed in Baltimore Airport,” Hughes said, “instead of any of the Washington airports. Our bus was given a motorcycle police escort. They said without that escort the 35-mile journey would have taken five hours due to the traffic. The next day, everywhere we went we had the same escort.

We arrived on Thursday and we went to the FDR memorial before nightfall. All the sayings that FDR used to say during his fireside chats were there to read. That was interesting.”

The next day was non-stop.

“Friday morning we got up at six o’clock,” Hughes said, “ate breakfast and took off to the World War II Memorial. We were met there by Congressman Pearce and Senator Udall. Senator Heinrich didn’t meet with us. That left a kind of a bad taste in my mouth. We were there for most of an hour.

“We visited the Korean memorial which is very real, I think. Of all the memorials, whoever did the monuments of those guys did a wonderful job. The Vietnam Memorial, until you’ve seen all those names on that wall you can’t imagine how powerful it really is. People leave things at the bottom of the wall in honor of the fallen. We did all this Friday and came back Saturday. Everything went like clockwork.”

The flight back held some surprises for the veterans.

“When we were probably over Abilene,” Hughes said, “Kathy Olson (Coordinator for Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico) hollered ‘Mail Call,’ and I wondered what that was about. She had contacted some of the family of each veteran and had them write letters to us. I got about two pounds of letters. I got so choked up I couldn’t read anymore.

“When we got to El Paso, Kathy had told us there was going to be a big party. I asked what it was and she said it was a secret. First thing, the band from Fort Bliss was there playing the old songs we all knew in the Army. We went into this room with a big pile of stuff stacked up. I had no idea what it was. Turns out it was quilts that were made by ladies all over the country for us by a group called Quilts of Honor. I looked them up on the computer and found a phone number. I called to thank them.”

The salutes didn’t stop there.

“We got on a bus and headed toward Las Cruces and had an escort by the Freedom Riders. On the road from El Paso to Las Cruces there were at least three different fire trucks by the side of the road saluting us.”

Hughes said he is deeply grateful to Kathy Olson and Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico.

“I’d like to thank the Honor Flight,” he said. “They do a great job. If there are any veterans here who haven’t been on it, I would suggest they go. It’s a great thing and it won’t cost them a dime.”

Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico can be reached by phone at 1-844-697-1590, by email at info@honorflightnm.org and by mail at PO Box 14017, Las Cruces, NM 88013.

Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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