In its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring local veterans, the Hampton Bays School District paid tribute to William “Billy” Hughes during an annual fourth grade Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 8. The students both celebrated Veterans Day and honored Hughes, who is being recognized at the school by having an American flag flown in his honor throughout November. Hughes is the 77th veteran to be honored by the district since 2011.
As part of the ceremony, held at Hampton Bays Elementary School, students read Hughes’ biography, spoke about the importance of Veterans Day and sang patriotic songs. They also had the opportunity to meet with members of the military in their classrooms.
In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, Hughes joined the U.S. Air Force with orders to report for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. This assignment was the catalyst for a momentous decision that changed his life. During basic training, he was recruited to join the elite Air Force pararescue specialty team.
At the completion of his training, he was transferred to active rescue assignments in Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam War effort, including missions to rescue downed American fliers in Laos, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Thailand. This was a tremendous amount of responsibility for an Air Force buck sergeant (E-4), and his missions sometimes included battling with enemy troops in the middle of a rescue.
In 1972, Hughes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, four air medals, and the Vietnam Service and Campaign medals. He was transferred stateside to the Pease Air Force base in New Hampshire, where he participated in civilian rescue operations and was promoted to staff sergeant. In 1974, he was honorably discharged and returned home to work for New York Telephone. The following year, he returned to the military in the New York Air National Guard and established the new 102nd Air Rescue and Recovery Service at the Westhampton Air Base. He trained airmen in pararescue and multi-crew military operations to be combat-ready.
Hughes participated in U.S. and international rescue operations until 1991, when he retired as senior master sergeant (E-8).
In 1981, Hughes joined the Southampton Town Police Department and retired as lieutenant in 2010. He and his wife, Linda, have two children and three grandchildren.
Hughes currently serves as the post commander of the Westhampton All American Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and is an active member of the Hampton Bays American Legion.
To read Hughes’ full bio, visit https://www.hbschools.us/district/flag_ceremony