, Newburyport, MA

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May 25, 2013

'I want younger Americans to remember'

For WWII vet, Memorial Day is time to honor fallen friends


“You have to go on, of course, but after the death of my good friend, I was really down. I did transfer — but it was worse in the new unit.”

The Army’s summer drive across France was halted in December, 1944, when the Germans counterattacked in the “Battle of the Bulge” in the Ardennes region covering parts of Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

It was December, and bitter cold.

Sometimes, his unit was in reserve, and on other occasions, they were in the middle of the fight.

“One time, we took refuge in a two-story house, and soldiers upstairs were hit, and the blood was dripping down through the floor onto my bedroll on the first floor.

“There many times when we were miserable. The best thing that happened to us in France was the arrival of galoshes. It saved our feet.”

Hughes, injured but not seriously, was eventually brought down by yellow jaundice, as were many of soldiers whose units had outdistanced their supply trucks.

Hughes, who had entered the service in early 1943, left the Army in October 1945. He earned a bronze star, and a half-dozen other honors.

The voluble vet went to company reunions but he noted that in recent years, the gatherings have stopped.

“So few of our guys are left,” he said. “Out of a unit of perhaps 1,000, there might be 50.”

Blake and Ruth, married since 1946, live independently in Newburyport. He attends Memorial Day gatherings (”but not the marching”), in large part to honor onetime friends — and to let others know the stories of courage and gallantry from seven decades ago.

“If veterans don’t tell their stories, the memories of all those good soldiers will disappear,” he said. “And I don’t want that to happen.”

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