Capt. Robert L. Hughes – La Junta AAB – Class 43B
Information provided by Michael B. Hughes, the son of Robert L. Hughes.
From the personal papers of Robert L. Hughes.
Thomas D. Hummel of the 100th’s 350 Squadron, Howard Keel and Robert L. Hughes of the 100th’s 351st Squadron were all classmates in Class 43-B at La Junta AAB in Colorado. All three trained at Blythe, CA, Walla Walla AAB in Washington State and Redmond, OR, thence staged through Grand Island, NE. Bob Hughes was appointed Assistant Personnel Officer SAUNDERS PROVISIONAL GP. In February 1943 Bob was advanced to Personnel Officer for Saunders Provisional GP and moved to Walla Walla for Secondary Phase Training. In early June. 1943 the Group moved to Redmond, Oregon for Final Phase Training, thence to Grand Island, Nebraska for staging to European Theater of Operations.
On the eve of June 23, 1943 Colonel Saunders called a muster and when all was formed he commanded, “Staff Officers front and center.” I walked forward and saluted. He ordered “About Face”. I, and my small gold bars, turned and faced the twenty-five (25) combat crews of Saunders Provisional Group. Colonel Saunders continued. “Men I would like to introduce to you both my Junior Staff Officer, My Senior Staff Officer and your new Commanding Officer to take you to your new station in Europe. 2nd Lt. Robert L. Hughes.” He hesitated for just a moment and then continued, “I know that there are several; 1st Lieutenants in the Group; however I have a message here which directs that I assign my senior staff officer as commander and Lt. Hughes is he.”
So with four months commissioned service 2nd Lt Robert L. Hughes picked up his first and only Group Command. On the 25th, June, 1943 the Saunders Provisional Group arrived safely at Bangor, Maine and began studying long range cruise control. Thomas D. Hummel had arrived at Bangor almost out of fuel. It was later learned that T.D. had gone past his home and engaged in a little bit of “Tag” with his long time neighbor who was busy in the field cultivating his corn crop. It is said that the barn doors were too small for the B-17.It is possible that T.D. just wanted a little tractor gas.
At Bangor, Maine, Base Commander Col Lawhorn attached nine (9) B-24 aircraft and crews to the Saunders Provisional Group. On the 28th of June all crews, 34 of them arrived safely in Ireland. The next day we all lost our nice new planes to the Modification Centers and we went to Combat Training School.
In all fairness it must be said here that Howard Keel had been placed in the Saunders Provisional Group #2 and arrived in England a few weeks later. Most gratifying of all is that Hughes and Keel were two of the first replacement crews in the 351st Squadron and they each finished twenty-five (25) missions. Hughes lead the Division to Posen, Poland with Colonel Neal Harding n the right seat calling the plays as he had done at the Point so many years before. Keel and Hughes were two of the eight (8) crews from the 100th to bomb Schweinfurt on Oct 14th, 1943. On that day the 100th was the only B-17 Group not to lose an aircraft on the Second Schweinfurt mission, Mission #115. Hughes was the Command Pilot for the 100th on March 4th, 1944 Berlin mission. It also completed his combat tour with the 100th.
Thomas Dale Hummel was shot down near Regensburg on August 17th, 1943. He spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft Three.
Raymond Nutting and H.G. Nash of the 350th Squadron were also from La Junta class 43-B. Nutting was shot down and walked out of enemy territory, the first escapee for the 100th. Sadly Howard Nash was KIA at Bremen on 08 Oct 43.