It has been more than seven decades since Robert “Bob” Hughey has served his country in World War II, but not a day goes by where he doesnt think about it.
“There is absolutely nothing like being an American,” recalled Hughey, as tears began to form in his eyes.
Recently, it was another experience that was conjuring up raw emotions for Hughey. He, along with fellow Elim Park resident Nora Adams, were two of the veterans to join the newly-formed Connecticut chapter of Honor Flights on a special trip to Washington, D.C. earlier this month.
Hughey served in the Coast Guard as a machinist mate on the U.S.S. Cepheus, an assault transport ship, and was there for the invasions of Southern France (Aug. 15, 1943) and Okinawa (April 1 through 18, 1944). Adams was a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) — the female branch of the United States Naval Reserve — during WWII.
Both are 96 years old.
On Oct. 5, Hughey and Adams were chosen to be part of an elite group of retired WWII veterans to participate in Connecticut’s inaugural Honor Flight event. According to the group’s website, the national Honor Flight program hosts events throughout the country, offering to “provide transport of America’s veterans to Washington D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.”
The state chapter of the Honor Flight was started this year by Matt Sparks and his son.
“Six months ago my son and I decided to try and bring Honor Flight to Connecticut,” explained Sparks. “The flight itself is all about honoring our veterans and what we’re doing is such a small thing when you compare it to what they did for us all those years ago.”
The journey for Hughey and Adams began in the early hours of Oct. 5, at Bradley International Airport, where they and the rest of the roughly 68 veterans and their caretakers received a hero’s send-off.
“I’ve never felt so important,” stated Adams.
There to wish them well were the Hamden High School Marching Band and the Air National Guard — performed for the group — as well as WTNH meteorologist and former marine Gil Simmons.
From Bradley, the Honor Flight group flew to Baltimore/Washington International Airport, at which time the veterans received a big surprise.
“During the flight the veterans get the chance to experience ‘mail call’ once again,” explained Sparks. “’Mail call’ was the only way veterans would receive word from home about how their families were doing outside of the war. For this special version of ‘mail call,' the veterans received letters from students and family members that the Honor Flight team collected ahead of time.”
“We try to have friends or family write letters to the veterans explaining how important their service was to them,” mentioned Sparks. “The majority of these letters from students came from Cheshire’s own Dodd Middle School.”
Hughey and Adams were moved by the letters they both received.
“I was so impressed by the ages of the students (who wrote letters), who want to thank their veterans,” said Hughey. “I plan on writing back to the students who wrote to me.”
Adams, a former teacher, was taken aback by the quality of the letters, and said she could tell that the students took a lot of time to make them.
After the Honor Flight group landed in Baltimore, where they welcomed by a large contingent, the group boarded a tour bus and made their way, courtesy of a private police escort, to the memorials and monuments in D.C.
“This was my first time traveling with men,” laughed Adams. “They kept us on time for everything and we got to see all the monuments.”
Adams was one of only two women on the trip, and she says she will remember for the rest of her life.
“I was so overwhelmed,” remembered Adams. “They were cheering for all of the veterans and made us look so official.”
“Once the veterans land in Baltimore, they have a pretty full day,” said Sparks. “They go see the WWII memorial, Korean War memorial, the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, Iwo Jima memorial, the Pentagon, and the Seabees memorial, and they also get a police escort throughout the entire city, which is essentially the same as what the President gets when he’s in town.”
After a busy day sight-seeing in Washington D.C., the veterans were loaded onto a plane to fly back to Bradley International.
”The entire trip was organized so well,” said Adams smiling. “I couldn’t believe all this was done for us.”
The Honor Flight organization has hubs in 45 states and is currently focusing its efforts on recruiting any and all veterans from WWII, Korea, or earlier wars. If you would like to learn more about Connecticut’s Honor Flight you can go to https://honorflightct.org/home