SALUTES COL. HUGHES ... HAPPY 99th, Sir!
Their paths intertwined over 78 years ago, and would be the foundation of an amazing journey that would carry Colonel Orville Hughes through three wars, many honors and a lifetime filled with respect and joy.
Colonel Hughes’ affinity for horses began as a young man in the mid1930s when he used to help his uncles on their farm. Although the horses were used to pull plows to overturn the earth and pull planters on the farm, Hughes decided early on that he preferred to ride them instead of walk behind them in the fields. Some of his fondest memories on the farm involved wading through deep streams riding bareback to collect the cows. His relatives delivered milk to 75 customers.
During the Depression years, young Hughes would be the first to graduate high school in his family in 1939. He was the youngest of four during a time when most young people would seek work instead of pursuing a high school education. Hughes was only 10 years old when he lost his father tragically after an accident at his father’s ice plant, and his mother at 26 years old would be widowed with four young children.
Hughes helped out his family after school by working at a local grocery “Grab It” with his friend Red. In his last year of high school, Hughes became interested in the Defense Department’s program that offered students the opportunity to learn about flying planes. He and Red applied and were accepted to the University of Illinois. Hughes became the first in his family to attend college in the fall of 1940.
At the University of Illinois, Hughes would opt to take ROTC for his elective and quickly chose the cavalry unit. His interest in horses and the opportunity to learn how to “become one with the horse” through cavalry training was a dream come true. Hughes would meet two times a week with ROTC, and Cadets would wear old World War I uniforms as they learned to care for horses. The University maintained a stable of 25-30 horses, and in his third year, Hughes would get to pick his mount. Hughes chose a 17 hand jumper by the name of “Dundee Smith” and learned how to sit properly; he was taught that there was an imaginary line that runs from the rider’s ear down through their hip and leg. This balance was essential to staying on especially during formation when the squadron of 4 riders and horses performed in sync pivoting at the command “wheel” left or right. Balance and the need to be “one with the horse” would become extremely relevant when jumping. All this training was intended to develop precision and ultimately a fearsome cavalry charge with saber and 45 caliber ready.
The events of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 changed everyone’s lives, and Hughes found himself having to choose between his love for horses and the reality of a modern war. Hughes graduated from the University of Illinois and reported to Fort Custard in Michigan where he chose the mechanized unit. In the end, it was his respect for horses that made him realize that they had no place in war after the onset of the machine gun in World War I.
Although Hughes would not see a horse during his tours in three wars- World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, he and his beloved wife Eleanor would make it their first priority to buy a horse as soon as they were able; they wanted their four young children to experience the pleasures and responsibilities of having a horse. Hughes and his family enjoyed horses for many years including foaling and breaking colts.
At 97 years old, Colonel Hughes reflected on the impact horses have had on his life and his family through the years- “Horses have played an important chapter in our lives influencing me and the children in so many ways.”
Congratulations, Sir, on celebrating your 99th birthday! Thank you for your amazing service to our country and continual involvement and contributions to the community. Godspeed in all you do.