By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Thomas Hughes was 16 years-old when World War II started.
"As soon as I got 18, I went down to the draft board."
He joined the army.
"I was a driver on a 4 ton truck, pulling artillery guns."
After basic training, he set sail aboard the British ship, the Acratania, headed for Europe.
"There was 8000 on that ship. The bunks were five high. We were supposed to get to Glasco, Scotland, in 7 days but the German submarines run a little fear and it took us 9 days to get there."
From Scotland, Hughes headed to England and later to a replacement center in Wales with the 115th Field Artillery. It was there he received orders along with nine other truck drivers to report for dukw training.
"A dukw is 31 feet long, 8 feet wide. It's a boat built on a 6 wheel truck."
Their first practice landing at Darvon, England, went off without a hitch. During their second practice, they weren't so lucky.
"On the 28th of April, we ran into trouble. The German torpedo boats met us out there. Our company was loaded on two ships. They sunk one of those ships. We had 3 survivors. There was 49 killed in our company. They had come out with a new life belt and you could mash a rubber ring around you. They didn't tell you it was supposed to be around your chest. That next morning, their feet were sticking up and their heads were down, because no one told them how to wear their life vests. There was 8 ships out there and they killed 749. They buried them in one big hole. And they kept it secret after the war."
Hughes headed back to the camp in England. He got a new dukw and new recruits to replace those who were killed. Their first big mission, the invasion of Normandy. Hughes arrived on D-day, plus-1.
"There was all kinds of dead bodies around. When we 1st got out of that ship. They were trying to find out where we were supposed to unload the dukw. Four German planes came over with their guns wide open. I literally saw the sand bubble around me from them German bullets but we ducked down and made it all right."
Hughes transported the wounded and hauled supplies from the ships. Late in the fall, he moved on to Laharve, France, and then went back to the states for a month's leave. From there, he headed to the Pacific.
"We went to Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Pearl Harbor, Okinowa. At Okinowa, we were waiting to make the Invasion of Japan. The Japanese were using suicide planes and they had us to unload at night. When they dropped the big bomb, that put a stop to it."
He would stay at Okinowa, working as a dispatcher four more months, until he was allowed to return home. He believes God's hand kept him safe throughout the war.
"I was blessed the whole way through it."
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