Dick Hughes of Paradise Park RV Resort south of Punta Gorda, Fla. flew a B-25, “Mitchell,” twin-engine bomber on 30 combat missions while serving in the 12th Air Force in Europe during World War II. He ended up in a “Mitchell” because a B-24 “Liberator” bomber was too big for him.
“I was 5-feet, 6-inches and 120 pounds soaking wet. I wasn’t big enough or strong enough to handle the controls on a B-24. I got a smaller airplane that was a perfect fit, a twin-engine B-25,” the 92-year-old former aviator said.
“The Outhouse Mouse” is a sanitized version of what an earlier pilot named his plane. Painted on the nose of the bomber was a cartoon of “Mickey” vacating a privy.
“When I finished my sophomore year in college I heard about the Civilian College Training Program. The government would teach you how to fly, then you had to join the Air Force,” Hughes recalled seven decades later. “On June 9, 1943 I fulfilled my obligation and enlisted.”
After months of book learning and hands on flying he got his wings and became a B-25 pilot.
“I was sent overseas in a liberty ship. It took us 30 days to cross the North Atlantic in November. Almost everyone on board was seasick by the time we reached Naples, Italy in November 1944,” he said.
“Our main job was to stop the Germans from bringing supplies into Italy through the Brenner Pass. We took out bridges and railroad marshaling yards,” Hughes said. “We usually bombed enemy targets at 12,000 feet.”
He flew 30 combat missions during the war as a member of 445th Bomb Squadron, 331st Bomb Group, 57th Bomb Wing, 12th Air Force base in Corsica.
“We weren’t bothered by enemy fighters, but we had some pretty intense missions because of flak from German 88 antiaircraft guns. The only time we flew level and in formation was the 30 seconds we were on our bombing run. We’d drop our bombs and then dived out of the target area.
“On several occasions we returned from a bombing run on one engine. It was knocked out by enemy flak. Most airplanes are designed so they can fly and hold altitude on a single engine,” he explained.
The saddest time for Hughes during his time in the service was when he was returning to the states near the end of the war.
“I was down in Naples waiting for a ship to take me home when I learned William Brooks, my bombardier, had been killed by the Germans. I took some time off during the war and while I was gone, Brooks flew a mission with another crew and was shot down over Italy.
“Both Brooks and co-pilot, Lucian Crutchfield, were taken into custody by Italian civilians who turned the airmen over to German soldiers. The Germans marched the two Americans out of the village. Because one of the Airmen had injured his leg and was having trouble walking the Germans gunned them both down and left their bodies along the road.
“That night the Italians returned and buried the two Americans. I had the sad experience of going to Brooks’ funeral several years later after the war in Troy, Ohio where he had lived,” the old aviator said with downcast eyes. “It was something I’ve never forgotten.”
After 30 combat missions, Hughes was transferred to 12th Air Force Service Command, commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph T. Morris. His squadron flight surgeon must have thought the lieutenant was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, what it’s called today.
“I lived with Gen. Morris, his chauffeur and mess sergeant in an Italian villa in Seneca, Italy. My job was to fly him in a twin Beechcraft to the various squadrons that used the supplies we provided,” Hughes said.
“‘Smoking Joe,’ as they called him, was a good man, but he was quite straight laced. It seemed like every colonel in charge of the squadrons he commanded had a cushy job with his own villa and a Red Cross friend.
“The general had been in the Air Force since 1917. He was a Yale graduate. He was a well-educated man who didn’t put up with a lot of nonsense,” he recalled. “Gen. Morris had a staff of eight–two house keepers, four waiters and a couple of cooks.”
Hughes came home from the war and got out of the Air Force on Nov. 4, 1945. Eventually he took a job with the Pyle National Co., a railroad firm out of Chicago, that manufactured turbo generators for steam engines, electrical equipment for engines and produced a line of industrial equipment. His first seven years with the firm was spent in the company’s New York Office.
“I became Midwestern Regional Sales Manager of Pyle’s Cleveland, Ohio operation. I was in charge of sales in six sates for Pyle where I worked for 35 years.”
Hughes and his wife, Marjorie, came to Florida’s west coast in the winter after he retired in 1984. For the last 30-plus years they’ve spent their winters at Paradise Park.
The couple has three children: Bill, Tim and Carol, six grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
“We’ve done our part,” Hughes said with a smile.
Name: William Hughes
D.O.B: 16 Dec. 1921
Hometown: Schenectady, N.Y.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 9 June 1942
Discharged: 4 Nov. 1945
Rank: # Second Lieutenant
Unit: # 445th Bomb Squadron, 331st Bomb Group, 57th Bomb Wing, 12th Air Force
Commendations: Air Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Northern Italy, Po Valley
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, March 25, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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