Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Second Lieutenant Lloyd Herbert “Pete” Hughes Jr. was born on July 12th, 1921 in Alexandria, Louisiana.
Less than two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hughes joined the U.S. Army and was appointed as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) at 21 years old.
After completing flight school, he received his Pilot’s Badge and was assigned to the 389th Bombardment Group as a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber pilot. Hughes and the 389th deployed to England and Libya, and he flew multiple combat missions over Italy and Romania.
On August 1st, 1943, Hughes took part in Operation Tidal Wave, one of the most costly air raids of the war. The USAAF and the U.K’s Royal Air Force (RAF) identified oil production as a strategic vulnerability of the Axis Powers and began a bombing campaign against infrastructure that provided the Nazis with petroleum and other oils. Operation Tidal Wave was one of the first bombing raids as part of this campaign, targeting nine oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania. Hughes took off from Libya with 179 B-24 Liberators on an 18-hour, 2,400 mile raid. Hughes’ target was the Campina oil fields north of Ploiesti. Unfortunately, the region was already the target of bombing raids in early June and the Axis reinforced the area with a flak division, an anti-air brigade, and over 50 fighters.
Hughes flew his bomber through barrage balloons and anti-aircraft fire at low altitude, taking several hits. The Liberator leaked gasoline from two different places, and the flames from the bombed oil field went higher than the bomber’s altitude. Despite the risk the bomber’s gas could ignite, Hughes continued with the mission, flying through a 30 foot wall of fire before dropping his payload on target. In doing so, his left wing caught fire, and before he could find a place to land, the wing flew off, causing the plane to cartwheel and crash. Hughes and five other crew members were killed, two were mortally wounded, and two survived, but were taken as prisoners of war. Despite Hughes’s accurate bombing, Operation Tidal Wave failed to curb Axis oil production and was considered a defeat, with 500 aircrew killed, missing, or captured and nearly a third of the bombers destroyed.
On April 18th, 1944, Hughes was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during Operation Tidal Wave. His widow, Hazel, received the award on his behalf. His other awards include the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and an Army Presidential Unit Citation.
The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our script writer, Declan Rohrs is our script editor and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, got to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.