On Saturday evening, local leaders and residents gathered at the Paul H. Hughey American Legion Post 25 for the post’s 100 years of service celebration.
The program started around 7 p.m. with members of the Fayette County Honor Guard presenting colors and those in attendance reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Dan Roberts — former Miami Trace superintendent — introduced the various guests, which included city and county officials. Both Washington Court House City Council member Jim Chrisman and Fayette County Commissioner Dan Dean read proclamations to the crowd.
“I got up this morning early and wrote the comments I would like to make, but you know how things change very quickly,” Roberts said. “As I watched the honor guard come up here and the pride that I see in their faces, and the honor they have in doing such, I want to thank you and all the persons in this room that have served, thank you for your service. You allow our freedoms to carry on and that is so important to us.”
Roberts said the community has a highly-recognized history with the iconic courthouse, spacious fairgrounds, surrounding rich farmlands and most importantly, its people. He said the community has been blessed with native sons and daughters whose presence still shapes Washington Court House and Fayette County.
“I am partnered with my friend, Paul LaRue,” Roberts said. “For those who have heard Paul speak on topics of American history before, you know how impressive his knowledge is and how he brings history back before you in such an interesting fashion. Paul and I met for coffee this week at Tim Hortons. We focused our discussion and learned we both have some affiliation with the American Legion. He was a member of Buckeye Boys State sponsored by the American Legion. I played Legion baseball for the Sidney Post 217 in 1977, and in 1978 serving as co-captain in my final year. I helped coach Legion baseball for years later for Post 25; one of those was the year we qualified to the state championships. When Paul shared what he was going to talk about, I realized whatever I say needs to be brief. He has a great tale to tell about a Washington Court House man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country. A man we have so honored memorializing his service by naming this Legion Post after him.”
LaRue, a retired teacher and local historian, then took to the podium and began telling the story of 1st Lt. Paul H. Hughey. According to LaRue, Fayette County lost 48 service members in World War I, including Hughey. He said what makes Hughey’s story fascinating is his connection with the Army’s pre-Air Force days.
“World War I breaks out in 1914,” LaRue said. “At that time the United States is not in the war, frankly most people in the United States did not think we would be going to war. What was interesting is, the Germans and the French started to fly planes at that time. In 1914, the plane is barely 12 years old. They say these first planes, in the very beginning, these German and French pilots actually just waved at each other, because they didn’t really know what to do. Then they say someone got a little more industrious, and they took half a brick and links of chains and they tried to lob them at each other.”
LaRue asked why not machine guns? The trickiest part in the beginning, he said, was the machine gun shooting off the propeller. A little time passed before the Germans would develop a timing gear that made machine guns on planes a possibility. He said over time, the pilots would realize they needed two things to be successful in the air: good eyesight and the ability to get close.
“In 1916, Paul Hughey is serving the Ohio National Guard,” LaRue said. “He was serving in Company M and was actually serving along the Texas-Mexican border. He comes home, war is declared, and the United States enters the war in April of 1917. He goes to flight school. Now, there are two places that you could go to flight school around here and both were in Dayton. McCook Field and Wilbur-Wright Field. Wilbur-Wright kept track of everybody who went through, his name is not on that list. McCook Field didn’t keep track of those things, so apparently he went through McCook Field. He will be one of 1,400 pilots to fly in World War I, a pretty small group considering we had around four million American service members in World War I.”
LaRue said that by the time Hughey made it to France, it was February 1918 and air warfare has changed dramatically. Hughey joined the 91st Aero Squadron of the First Army Observation Group, and they had a fairly straightforward purpose: long-range reconnaissance. They had two ways they would observe, either through photographs or what they called visual observations.
“Some of the missions were photographed, in fact his squadron received the French Croix de Guerre with Palm because they took over 2,500 photographs of the German positions,” LaRue said. “In September of 1918, he and a group are leading a photographic mission when 12 German planes attacked his group. It sounds like a fairly mad scramble, but they took down three planes and they made it back safely. They described in reports how many bullets their planes took, and what the damage was and it sounds pretty hairy. Two days later, on September 4, he goes up again and was in another dogfight with Germans.”
LaRue said to help one of his fellow pilots, Hughey would get into position and take down a plane. That evening, the young pilot would write his mother a letter — which later appeared in the local paper — where he described those two days of missions to her and said he didn’t know how long he would be that lucky. He also said to his mother, “I sure hope someone saw me shoot that plane down. If an observer didn’t see it, I know I won’t get credit for it.”
“Two weeks later Hughey left for another visual mission, and he is never heard from again,” LaRue said. “When World War I ended on November 11, he is listed as missing in action. We assumed he had to have been shot down, but in the records he was listed MIA. Some time passed and his body was recovered, and now he is buried in Washington Cemetery. What an amazing life and an amazing time to be a pilot, 100 years ago when the technology was barely 10 years old. I asked some of the folks over at the Air Force Base in Dayton if they had these records of pilots who shot down planes. They have the records of 491 pilots who are credited with the destruction of a plane….he is not one of them. They have 800 groups of two and three pilots who destroyed an enemy plane and his name is not one. He is one of 237 pilots listed as shot down.”
The letter Hughey wrote to his mother really resonated with LaRue though, and he continued to think about it for some time. Though he did not get credit for taking down the German plane, LaRue said Hughey did in some way get credit as being memorialized for the past 100 years as the namesake of the local American Legion Post 25.
“In conclusion, I think I would like all of you to give a round of applause to 1st Lt. Paul H. Hughey for the credit he so richly deserves.”
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.