NEWBURYPORT — It’s been almost 70 years since Blake Hughes was part of the U.S. Army that fought through France as part of the victorious drive to liberate Europe, but here is one soldier who hasn’t forgotten.
He’s about to turn 90 now, but Memorial Day will always mean something to him.
“I take part in Memorial Day activities because I want younger Americans to remember their history and know what happened,” said Hughes recently.
“Older Americans are finding a greater appreciation of what soldiers did in World War II but not younger ones. The efforts of American soldiers shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Hughes is a native of Stamford, Conn., who came to this area after the war. He and his wife, Ruth, ran the Newburyport Printmaker shop on Inn Street for four decades before closing in 2010. With their son and daughter-in-law, they still sell artwork online.
Memorial Day weekend is special to Hughes, in part because he did so much during the war. And he possesses a fine memory that permits him to reflect on some remarkable events.
He was a sergeant in the combat engineers, and had the harrowing job of clearing mines and booby traps from rivers and roadways.
“I landed on Omaha Beach (in France) in (summer) 1944, and our unit was under fire by planes strafing and German tanks that were still fighting,” he recalled.
“We Americans had confidence but there was still a lot of opposition. When we arrived at rivers, I was sometimes sent forth to clear mines so we could get across.
“Once we were clearing fallen trees from an important road, and a loose packet of TNT fell out of a branch and between my feet. If it had gone off, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Hughes said that his best friend was killed by an explosive device known as a “bouncing Betty.” He was so upset that he requested a transfer.