France decorates World War II soldier from North Huntingdon

Resident is given highest honor

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Some efforts are so exemplary, they merit recognition even more than a half-century later.

For his part in the liberation of France during World War II, William Hughes, was named a chevalier of the Legion d'honneur -- the Legion of Honor -- at a ceremony Feb. 13 at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"I can't get over it," Mr. Hughes, 88, of North Huntingdon, said of the award. "It brings back a lot of memories."

He was joined in the recognition by 13 other American veterans of the four pivotal campaigns of the liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes and Northern France.

The Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France, was established by Napoleon Bonaparte more than 200 years ago.

In his address, Olivier Serot Almeras, consul general of France, said "this award is a sign of France's gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contributions to the U.S.'s decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II."

About a year ago, Mr. Hughes completed a questionnaire in a veterans publication about his military service in France. He sent the information to the French Embassy according to the instructions and forgot about it.

In January, he received a letter about the award.

He attended the ceremony with his wife, Lucille; son Terry Hughes of Verona; daughters Susan Mead of Charlotte, N.C., and Patricia Hutchinson of Belmar, N.J.; and their spouses.

Mr. Hughes, who grew up in the small mining town of Osceola Mills in Clearfield County, was one of five brothers in the U.S. Armed Forces at the same time. His brothers are now deceased.

He arrived in northeastern France in November 1944, fighting house to house near the towns of Nancy and Metz. On Dec. 16, the 80th infantry division was moved to Luxembourg for what became known as the Battle of the Bulge -- a decisive Allied victory against a major German offensive.

After five weeks of combat in the snow, and wearing camouflage made from bed sheets by the women of the nearby villages, Mr. Hughes suffered a severe head wound. He spent the next six months in hospitals in Luxembourg, England and Virginia.

He recalled that when the medic offered him the piece of shrapnel that had shattered his forehead, he declined.

"I guess I just wasn't thinking about souvenirs," Mr. Hughes said.

After his discharge, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from Penn State University on the GI Bill.

He worked for 32 years in the Westinghouse research laboratories in Churchill, retiring in 1982.

Mr. Hughes said he will store the medal with other precious keepsakes: his collection of medals from battles throughout World War II.

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: First Published February 28, 2013 10:00 AM


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