In a November 2016 interview with Pearl Harbor survivor John Hughes, the 97-year-old veteran touched on a word that he and his fellow Pearl Harbor survivors hear often. When discussing his long Marine Corps career, Hughes shrugs off being called a hero, instead claiming it “was just part of the job.”
Hughes served in the United States Marine Corps for 27 years, taking part in World War II and the Korean War before retiring with over 150 combat missions under his belt. Though a man like Hughes may consider what he did for his country as part of his job, most people would consider him a hero. He signed up to be a protector of the nation. That alone is a heroic act, but Hughes’s heroism went well beyond that.
By joining the Marine Corps—or the Navy in the case of other Pearl Harbor heroes like Jim Downing and Ray Chavez—these men already put their lives on the line. Even if the nation wasn’t preparing for war at the time of their enlistment, being in uniform meant that, when war did break out, they were at the front line.
John Hughes and Pearl Harbor
Hughes may consider what he did as “part of his job,” but it was nothing short of heroism and bravery. As the Japanese flew over Oahu, Hughes and the other men at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, together with the thousands of others stationed at nearby Pearl Harbor, stood their ground and either fought back or scrambled to rescue those injured in the attack.
In the case of Hughes, the young Marine was one of the first to pick up a weapon and fire on the incoming Japanese aerial assault. Many of the men on the ground were forced to fire on the Japanese fighter planes with little more than rifles, and though the effort was mostly futile, they stood their ground and fought.
Hughes’s heroism doesn’t end with Pearl Harbor or World War II. During the Korean War, the Marine flew many danger-filled missions to rescue wounded soldiers.
The retired Marine lives a quiet life and refers to his time in the service as his “adventures,” but to anyone who hears the stories of the terrible tragedy of Pearl Harbor and World War II, and later, the grinding conflict of the Korean War, men like John Hughes weren’t just doing a job they signed up for.
They were exhibiting true American heroism.