Judge finds father’s World War II ‘Band of Brothers’ letters
By BOB KALINOWSKI | The (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Citizens’ Voice | Published: August 12, 2020
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Luzerne County Judge Richard M. Hughes III said his late father didn’t talk much about his Army service in World War II. But he wrote extensively about his combat journey through Europe.
It just took the family more than 75 years to find the writings.
Hughes recently found a stash of more than 820 of his father’s World War II letters while spring cleaning the family homestead in Fairview Township during the COVID-19 shutdown. The letters, still in mint condition, were in his father’s Army foot locker that no one knew was in a storage space underneath the porch of the family’s home in the Glen Summit section.
“It’s been one of the amazing things that happened during quarantine. It blessed us,” Hughes said recently. “You get such a sense of what was going on in the world. It reminds you of what a different time it was.”
Hughes’ father, Richard M. Hughes II, was a member of the now-famous Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The paratrooper unit was memorialized in a book and an HBO miniseries called “Band of Brothers.”
“My father died in 1991 at age 75. It would have been such a treat to have had these letters when he was living because it would have opened a lot of discussion,” Hughes said.
Most of the letters are between the elder Hughes and his parents, Maxwell and Louise Hughes of West Pittston. In each letter, he addresses them as “Muddy and Dad.”
The letters, beginning when he first entered the military, detail his combat experiences in Holland and in the siege of Bastogne in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, a final German offensive seen as a turning point in the war for Allied powers.
That was his final battle of the war. He developed a severe case of trench foot that led to the amputation of eight of his toes, including both big ones.
“Was evacuated out of the line on Christmas afternoon — with trench foot. You know, me and cold weather never did get along very well,” the elder Hughes wrote to his parents on Dec. 28, 1944. “Thought my ‘dogs’ would work out OK, but the (battalion) surgeon told me that if I started another day, I might have some trouble.”
The elder Hughes didn’t have to put himself in position to be in the war. He volunteered.
A 1934 graduate of Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, he got his bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1938. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s law school in 1941. When the war broke out, he enlisted in the Army infantry. While in the service, he attended Officer Candidate School and became a leader of his unit.
In his letters, the elder Hughes often assured his parents he would be safe despite the up-close, constant combat. And he all but predicted American victory.
“As I told you before, I’m a lucky guy, so please don’t ever worry about me. Am not kidding, there’s nothing in this part of the world that can even bother me,” he wrote. “The Germans are kind of foolish to hang on, but many of the Nazis still think they will win, or at least manage a negotiated peace. That’s where they will be very much surprised.”
Following the war, the elder Hughes came home to practice law. He and his son later became partners in a law firm.
Hughes is planning to digitize all of his father’s letters and then donate the originals to the World War II Museum in New Orleans. The museum has told him it’s the largest collection it will have of personal correspondences from the war.
The judge said he’s thankful his three children were able to read the letters and to get to know their grandfather. When the elder Hughes died, daughter Callie was 2 and daughter Ellen was a month old. Son Richard IV, who is attending the University of Pennsylvania, like his grandfather did, hadn’t been born yet.
“For the kids to sit here and read these letters, they are getting to know their grandfather in a way they never could,” Hughes said.
Nov. 29, 1944:
This is the start of a long letter which, I hope, will kind of tie together all the notes I wrote you from the lines. Censorship allows us to write about personal experiences after 14 days have passed, so here goes … We got a chance to go up to the lines and learn a great deal without first jumping into the fight. The rest of our replacement bunch ( who arrived today from England) are still 100% green. Having seen what it’s all about, I haven’t any doubts or worries about the next operation … You know, people tend to always think of the P-troops as a dashing bunch. We aren’t. It’s just foot infantry with a parachute thrown in … As I told you before, I’m a lucky guy, so please don’t ever worry about me. Am not kidding, there’s nothing in this part of the world that can even bother me.
Dec. 17, 1944:
“You see, by ‘sticking my neck out’ a little, I gained some combat experience that will pay big dividends sometime in the future … Yes, the Germans are kind of foolish to hang on, but many of the Nazis still think they will win, or at least manage a negotiated peace. That’s what they will be very much surprised
Dec. 26, 1944:
Hello Muddy and Dad- How are you today and how was Christmas? Been thinking about you a great deal. Spent the holiday season in a foxhole. There were Christmas trees all around and my foxhole was lined with their branches. It was a very white Christmas too; and Christmas Eve was clear and very still … The (Germans) have been making quite a drive- which has been stopped very dead. The boys have made good (Germans) out of a great many of them. The kids in my platoon are a great bunch and crack shots.
Dec. 28, 1944:
Hello again. Finally getting around to continuing this letter. Was evacuated out of the line on Christmas afternoon — with trench foot. You know, me and cold weather never did get along very well. Thought my “dogs” would work out OK, but the Bn surgeon told me that if I started another day I might have some trouble. So my roommate has his platoon back again.
Dec. 29, 1944:
Last night was very still and clear. Can’t see the sky just now but here’s hoping it’s a good day! Because when it’s a good day the bombers get going. It’s a beautiful sight to see them going over by hundreds. They fly high and glisten in the sun. then the planes come in to strafe and dive bomb and that’s good to see … By the way, as I came out as a casualty and as the Krauts know who we were, there’s no harm in saying that I spent the holidays (text blacked out) The Germans even made propaganda broadcasts and dropped Xmas cards saying the (?) to surrender. You see, they just don’t understand the American way. At no time was anybody even mildly concerned about the situation.