2nd Lt. Lloyd Herbert "Pete" Hughes Jr., Class of 1943
Medal of Honor recipient
Born July 12, 1921
Killed in action Aug. 1, 1943
Lloyd Herbert Hughes Jr., better known as "Pete," was born in 1921 in Alexandria, La. He was raised in Refugio, Texas, about 42 miles south of Victoria. Hughes graduated from high school in 1939 and enrolled at Texas A&M that fall to study petroleum engineering, according to his Distinguished Alumni profile with the Association of Former Students.
The next two semesters, Hughes attended Corpus Christi Junior College, now Del Mar College, to improve his grades. He transferred back to A&M for the fall 1941 semester, but withdrew near the end of the semester to assist his family, according to the Association of Former Students.
Hughes enlisted as an aviation cadet with the Army Air Forces in January 1942. He trained at several bases in Texas and Oklahoma over the next year. He married Hazel Dean in November 1942 in San Antonio. Two days later in Lubbock, Hughes received his pilot's wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
He was assigned to the 564th Squadron in the 389th Heavy Bombardment Group ("Sky Scorpions"). Philip Ardery, 564th commander, described Hughes in Bomber Pilot: A Memoir of World War II as "a laughing, youngish, handsome lad and a much-better-than-average pilot." Hughes was stationed at air fields in Utah, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska, before being sent overseas in June 1943.
Operation Tidal Wave
Hughes and the crew of the B-24 Liberator nicknamed "Ole Kickapoo" flew to England in early June 1943, along with the rest of the 389th. At the end of the month, the bombardment group was on the move again, this time to Libya. They flew in four bombing missions that July, one over Greece and three over Italy. Hughes and the crew's last raid was over oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, a mission called Operation Tidal Wave. More than 170 B-24 bombers were to cause heavy damage to the Axis oil refineries, according to the U.S. Army Military History Institute. The refinery in Ploseti supplied the Germans with a third of its oil and gas needs, according to Ardery's memoir.
On Aug. 1, 1943, the B-24 Liberators left bases near Benghazi, Libya, to cross the Mediterranean Sea and southern Europe into Romania, according to Hughes' medal citation. The round trip was more than 2,000 miles. The mission required bombers to fly at low-level altitudes for better accuracy. The Air Corps lacked enough bombing groups for repeat attacks at high levels (25,000 feet). The B-24s were not designed for low-level raids, but Allied commanders deemed it the best option, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor by James R. Woodall. Military officials expected a high number of casualties. The "raid could almost be characterized as a suicide mission," Ardery wrote.
The Germans were more prepared to defend its largest refinery than Allied intelligence had described, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. Antiaircraft fire caused Ole Kickapoo to leak "a sheet of raw gasoline [from Hughes'] left wing," Ardery wrote in his memoir. He hoped Hughes would decide to withdraw and drop his bombs from a higher altitude because they were about enter a "solid room of fire" above the burning oil tanks and refineries.
Hughes stayed with the squadron at low levels and released the bombs, successfully hitting his assigned target. Ole Kickapoo emerged from the high flames with the left wing on fire. Ardery then watched as Hughes attempted to slow the plane and land in a valley. The flames from the left wing engulfed more of the plane. As Ole Kickapoo touched ground, the left wing flew off, and the plane spun and careened into the ground, according to the Air Force's Heritage website. Hughes and five other members of the crew died in the crash. Two later died of their wounds and two were captured as prisoners of war.
"Pete had given his life and the lives of his crew to carry out his assigned task," Ardery wrote in his memoir. "To the very end he gave the battle every ounce he had."
Five Medals of Honor were awarded to pilots who participated in the Ploesti raid. Ardery nominated Hughes for the Congressional Medal of Honor and wrote the citation, because "the example of Hughes stood out in [his] mind as a case of most conspicuous merit," according to his memoir.
Hughes was the first Aggie to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The rest of the 10-member crew received the Distinguished Service Cross — the second-highest award.
Casualties were high among the American bombers. Of the 178 planes, 56 were shot down, and a third of the 1,758 crewmen were either killed in action or captured and did not immediately return.
Hughes' widow received his Medal of Honor in April 1944 for his "heroic decision to complete his mission regardless of the consequences in utter disregard of his own life, and by his gallant and valorous execution of this decision," according to the medal citation. His and his crewmen's remains were buried in a Romanian cemetery, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. Hughes was reburied at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio in April 1950, as part of a U.S. government initiative after the war to bring back the remains of American soldiers who died.
Honoring an Aggie
A dorm on the north side of campus was named after Hughes in 1964. The coed residence hall adjoins the outside balconies of Keathley and Fowler halls, forming a "T" with Keathley. Both halls are named for other Medal of Honor recipients: George Keathley, Class of 1937, and Thomas Fowler, Class of 1943.
Hughes' Medal of Honor and other awards are on display at the Corps of Cadets Center. There is also a bronze plaque of his military portrait. He is recognized in the Hall of Honor at the Memorial Student Center with a display of his military portrait, medal citation and a reproduction of the Army Medal of Honor (the Air Force was not a separate service until 1947).
-- Compiled by Claire Heathman