CHESHIRE — It has been more than seven decades since Robert “Bob” Hughey served his country in World War II, but not a day goes by where he doesn’t think about it.
“There is absolutely nothing like being an American,” said Hughey, as tears began to form in his eyes.
Recently, another experience conjured up raw emotions for Hughey. He and fellow Elim Park resident Nora Adams were two of the veterans to join the newly-formed Connecticut chapter of Honor Flight 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 participated in invasions of Southern France (Aug. 15, 1943) and Okinawa (April 1–18, 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,” Sparks said. “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 heroes’ send-off.
“I’ve never felt so important,” said Adams.
From Bradley, the Honor Flight group flew to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. During the flight, they received a surprise.
“The veterans get the chance to experience ‘mail call’ once again,” Sparks said. “ ‘Mail call’ was the only way veterans would receive word from home about how their families were doing...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. The majority of these letters from students came from Cheshire’s own Dodd Middle School.”
Hughey and Adams were moved by the letters.
“I plan on writing back to the students who wrote to me,” Hughey said.
Adams, a former teacher, said she could tell that the students took a lot of time to write them.
After landing in Baltimore, where they were 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.
Adams was one of only two women on the trip.
“I was so overwhelmed,” she said. “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 World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Pentagon, and the Seabees Memorial, and they also get a police escort through 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. “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. To learn more about Connecticut’s Honor Flight, go to https://honorflightct.org/home.